Dancing in the wind with Diane Aftimos

BEIRUT: The proliferation of gallery-like spaces about the city is unremitting. Most recently it’s the turn of Iris – the rooftop bar whose thump-thump-thumping routinely echoes from atop the Al-Nahar Building – which a few days ago inaugurated its own space for art.“Dancing in the Wind,” the Iris Art Gallery’s first show, features the photographs of Lebanese photographer Diane Aftimos.

The Brussels- and Beirut-based Aftimos’ oeuvre is frequently concerned with personal themes.

Aftimos may be a familiar figure from the several photo projects that she has undertaken. She has turned her lens to life in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, and framed both the natural environment and oppressive cityscapes.

The rooftop’s indoor space has been turned over to a wide selection of her most recent photos, which she has represented as an ode to nature.

The exhibition is comprised of two principal series – “Dancing in the Wind” and “Sensual Whisper” – which take nature and women as their focus.

Purists will question whether the Iris Gallery can be called an art gallery at all, since the works share the space with the winter lounge’s furniture and bar. The club’s decor is unchanged, in fact, aside from a few panels that have been erected as surfaces from which to hang Aftimos’ photographs.

Upon entering the venue, the branches of the stainless steel tree (the venue’s central design feature) have been hung with small-sized photographs (40x60cm).

This is a nice touch, since as viewers walk past the works literally “dance in the wind,” just as the show’s title promises. No doubt the photos would dance about even more energetically had they been hung in the midst of Iris’ outdoor space, though the prints might suffer somewhat from the bleaching of sunlight and the odd spasm of muddy rain.

Hung from the white panels erected around the venue, the other works on show offer a more stable perspective of Aftimos’ art. There is this game between absence and presence in these works: Onlookers can see the woman being depicted, though she seems to be disappearing. The artist’s technique leaves viewers with the impression that each piece is comprised of several photos juxtaposed atop one another.

Some favor black-and-white photography because, without the distraction of color, it can convey greater emotional authenticity. For Aftimos, however, the point seems to be that monochrome artworks enable the viewers to see the process behind each picture.

The locations of the artist’s figures are excised from her photographs. The want of context gives the onlooker freedom to interpret them as they like, and thus to identify with the subjects.

Aftimos is known for packaging Beirut as she knows it, adding visual effects that cast the city’s residents and landscape after her own imaginative template. “Dancing in the Wind” represents those facets of Beirut that it shares in common with other cities. It’s uncertain which other locations she has in mind, but the poetic fluidity of her work does make it pleasing to the eye.

The figures represented in these photos are often blurry. This conveys something of the ephemeral nature of the people and objects being rendered, imparting each with the lightness of air. Her figures might be levitating, like celestial creatures.

Diane Aftimos’ “Dancing in the Wind” is now on display at Iris Art Gallery. For more information, please call 01-494-967 Ext: 30.





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