BEIRUT: As interest in Syrian art continues to escalate, seemingly in step with the conflict, certain Beirut galleries are dedicating ever more wall space to group shows of work by artists united by one thing: their nationality. Downtown’s Mark Hachem Gallery is currently holding a one-week exhibition entitled “Creation Never Dies,” which is due to close Oct. 1 – the day before the first Syria Contemporary Art Fair, organized by Damascene gallerist Samer Kozah, opens at Artheum in Karantina.
The selection of work up at Mark Hachem is by no means new. In fact, several of the works on show were exhibited as part of the group show “Twelve” in May. Comprising works by eight artists, all born before 1958, the show displays recent pieces by some of Syria’s modern greats, among them Fateh Moudarres and Leila Nseir.
Hachem has chosen to exclude his younger clutch of Syrian artists – which includes Sabhan Adam, Homam Alsayed and Yasir Safi – from this show, instead focusing on the older generation. Unfortunately, the exhibit tags are undated, which prevents viewers from contextualizing the works on display.
Four small, framed canvases by Fateh Moudarres are tucked away in a line on the wall by the main desk. His distinctive warm colors and expressionist portraits, capturing angular faces that resemble classical statues, stand out from the larger, bolder works around them.
“Darwish,” painted in a wash of pale pinks, grays and beiges, captures a man in a sikke, the tall hat worn by the whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi Order. Clearly dated 1997, the painting was completed just two years before Moudarres’ death in 1999, and displays the subtlety and skill gleaned over a lifetime.
Several sculptures by Mustafa Ali provide a three-dimensional element to the show. His smaller pieces juxtaposing delicate bronze nudes with unforgiving slabs of wood, several of which were exhibited in “Twelve,” are this time supplemented by three heads, each roughly carved from a single enormous block of wood.
Resembling totem poles, these pieces call to mind tribal carvings of idols for ceremonial worship. Two stand erect, faces serene, but a third lies toppled beside what looks like an enormous wooden oar, calling to mind images of the torn-down statues of Saddam Hussein disseminated so prominently in the international media during the 2003 Iraq War.
Two beautiful, heavily textured mixed media abstracts by Nazir Nabaa resemble elemental studies. The first is a series of thickly slathered strokes of paint mixed with what looks like plaster, creating a pitted surface resembling volcanic rock.
The bottom of the canvas is a dusky purple, like ripe eggplants, while toward the top the color changes, shifting to a slice of vivid orange, topped by a line of rich blue. The impression is of looking both inside the earth, at layers of strata accumulated over centuries, and at the surface of a slab of rock formed in seconds as red-hot magma cools to black stone.
A second, equally textural work has a more centrifugal orientation, seeming to capture magma in its liquid form. Colored in burnt purple and deep red around the circumference, it shifts to fiery oranges and yellows toward the center, in which are two blotches of startling cobalt blue, like the root of a flame.
Painter Ahmad Moualla is represented in several contrasting works, a number of his colorful calligraphic abstracts displayed alongside several smaller black-and-white pieces capturing grouped human figures.
Nizar Sabour’s paintings are supplemented by three of his concertina-bound artist books, each accompanied by a handmade wooden box into which it can be locked away for safekeeping. Leila Nseir, meanwhile, is represented by a series of small sketches and paintings, her accomplished portraits splashed across two walls like a mini solo exhibition.
“Creation Never Dies” may serve as an introduction to some of Syria’s modern artists, many of whom are still working today, but the show feels somewhat thrown together, as though works were hung to fit the space, rather than to create a cohesive exhibition. For this reason this weeklong show is perhaps of more interest to those seeking to buy than those who wish to simply soak up the visual spectacle.
“Creation Never Dies” is up at Mark Hachem Gallery in Downtown until Oct. 1. For more information call 01-999-313.