BEIRUT: Guns, hard hats, masks and boots. The trappings of the soldier. Hind Al Soufi evokes the specter of war in her untitled installation, which uses found pieces of plastic, iron and glass to create a tableau of skeletal soldiers. The simple framework used to support these items renders the carefully staged arsenal more menacing than bodies might, suggesting that the objects themselves are capable of inflicting violence without human intervention or control.
Soufi’s work is one of the more interesting pieces in “Visual Art Forum IV: Lebanese Contemporary Art,” a group exhibition showcasing the work of over 100 Lebanese artists, organized by the Lebanese Artists Association and currently on show at the UNESCO Palace in Verdun.
The 110 artists taking part are each represented by a single work. Paintings dominate proceedings but a smattering of photographs, sculptures and installation pieces help to provide some variety.
The quality, however, varies wildly – few names are likely to be familiar from the regular Beirut gallery circuit and while some pieces elicit a pleasant sense of discovery, others encourage the viewer to move swiftly onward, eyes averted.
The exhibition fills the two enormous halls to either side of the lobby and there is not a square meter of wall space to spare. This makes viewing the individual pieces somewhat overwhelming, as it is impossible to step back and view one image without the work on either side crowding into your frame of vision.
Among the more popular pieces at the opening Thursday evening was Adnan Hakani’s “If dust would speak,” an enormous semi-abstract work, executed entirely with pigment, sand and colored soil gathered from around Lebanon. Below the canvas small white bowls filled with the medium in its raw state show the diversity of colors Hakani was able to source and the origin of each individual shade.
Other interesting pieces include Saleh Rifai’s “Promissed hope [sic],” a photography and mixed media work capturing two small boys standing in a courtyard, staring up at an enormous plane hovering above the Beirut skyline. Rifai appears to have compiled elements from several shots and has also fiddled with the colors, creating an interesting contrast in brightness and introducing patches of negative.
“Last step to liberation,” a photographic print on canvas by Shogh Ian, is another arresting piece, capturing a muscular man clad in a white, featureless mask walking through a forest. His torso is shrouded in a long length of white fabric, the far end of which is wrapped around a tree. He appears to be unwinding it from his body as he walks.
Eleven abstract and semi-abstract paintings by Mahmoud Amhaz, one of two artists chosen to be “honored” during this edition, are another highlight of the show. Picked out in shades of purple, mauve and green, they hang together well and display a subtlety lacking in many of the other works.
Traditional sculptures in wood and stone rather blend into the general hustle and bustle, displayed as they are on low plinths, without much in the way of lighting, but Mohamad Murad Obeidi’s trio of bronze faces, entitled “Three steps to democracy,” is hard to miss.
The first captures the unobjectionable visage of a middle-aged man, the second a lumpy, battered-looking face, full of pits and holes and missing one eye, and the third a skull. The message may not be subtle, but it is effectively communicated.
“Visual Art Forum IV: Lebanese Contemporary Art” is up at the UNESCO Palace in Verdun until Oct. 23. For more information see lebaneseartistsassociation.org