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JABAL: Young and emerging artists occupy Beirut hotel
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BEIRUT: JABAL has transformed a section of Le Gray Hotel into an art venue. Jeunes Artistes des Beaux-Arts du Liban (Young Fine Artists of Lebanon), as the exhibition is termed, is comprised of works by 25 selected young artists. Created in 1998 by Fransabank, JABAL is a platform meant to enable young, unknown talents to exhibit their works and confront the artistic elite in a professional environment.

More than a hundred people have applied for JABAL since February, 25 of whom have been selected to contribute work to decorate this five-star hotel. The paintings, photographs, sculptures, drawings and furniture designs on show suggest something of the variety and talent of this new generation of artists.

Some of the contributors, like Youssef Nehme, give a new meaning to found items. Both his works deploy vintage electronic chips to portray situations – a donkey wandering in a desert and a pair of teenagers having fun with mobile devices.

Others share a vision of metamorphosing the old into the new. Ceramist Nour Ali has used traditional coffee cups as molds to create cup holders. This refined technique gives new life to this piece of tableware.

With 25 artists contributing work, there is a wide variety of practice and objects on show, but not all this art is equally stimulating.

Nour Ballouk’s two oil-on-canvas works “The Seven Wives Theory” and “The One Wife Theory” portray women in different postures. The sketches are on the minimalist side, to the point that onlookers may have a hard time getting the artist’s objective.

The 10 drawings Lebanon-based French artist Cyrine Gautier has contributed to JABAL were all made in a period of three months. As she explained to The Daily Star, these unique works represent the society in which the artist finds herself (whether Paris or Beirut).

“There is this character in 3-D” in the drawings, she said, “and the other characters change around them.”

Her technique is reminiscent of that found in the children’s series “Where’s Waldo?” In fact, Waldo is actually present in one of Gautier’s drawings. The viewer will want to spend several long minutes scrutinizing each and every one of these witty social satires. Gautier’s work is a treasure trove in which each precisely chosen character bears a significant role in their fantastical worlds.

Mhamad Saad’s oil-on-canvas painting “Farewell Beirut” represents a rather different vision of society. Dogs, Lebanese political figures, the Martyrs’ statue and U.S. cartoon character Homer Simpson all cluster together in a collage that references high culture and pop culture alike.

This oddly caricatured tableau leaves the viewer somewhat amused. The more you scrutinize it, the more can be found. Resplendent in Superman shirt and Y-fronts, Homer Simpson sits alongside Saad Hariri, who reaches out to a representation of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah in a manner reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco.

The work is reminiscent of Theodore Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” which represented a historic shipwreck. The original painting was created to awaken the interest of the audience on the state of the society. Saad’s painting seems to have pretty much that same objective – “Farewell Beirut,” farewell to today’s society.

The ninth edition of JABAL is a successful project, giving emerging artists an opportunity to show their work in an environment where patrons have the liquidity to buy it. Indeed, on the opening night of the exhibition, 18 of the 25 artists sold some, if not all, their work.

JABAL continues at Le Gray until May 12.

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