BEIRUT: Overlooking moored yachts and bustling with people enjoying their lunch, brunch or happy hour, Zaitunay Bay has been pitched as a hip, filtered enclave where you can have a nice time with friends.
If you are looking for something more interesting to do, walk toward the end of the pier where you will fall upon the Yacht Club. This wide space is sometimes turned over to exhibitions, and is now displaying a series of colorful paintings by Dublin-based Filipino artist Marvin Baldemor.
Comprised of 38 of Baldemor’s canvases, “A Journey of Colors” has been assembled to celebrate the 116th anniversary of Philippine Independence. The exhibition was presaged by a food festival held Sunday at UNESCO Palace, to introduce the parochial Lebanese palate to Filipino food and culture, folk dances and songs.
This exhibition is Baldemor’s Lebanon debut. “I had a very warm welcome,” he told The Daily Star. “I didn’t expect Beirut to be so peaceful and quiet.”
When the Filipino Embassy first asked the artist to come to Lebanon, his friends expressed some doubts and, after some online research, Baldemor himself didn’t know what to expect. Images of war mingled with others of marvelous landscapes left him feeling dubious for a spell, but he finally decided to come anyway.
“[Beirut] is the Paris of the Middle East,” he said, echoing an antique trope about the city before the 1975-1990 Civil War. “I wanted to go there.”
Baldemor was astonished to learn that he would exhibit in such a voluminous venue. To enlarge his series, he created an additional 18 Lebanon-themed works just three days before traveling to Beirut.
The works in “A Journey of Colors” combine traditional and contemporary techniques.
In tune with the celebratory theme, the Philippines-themed canvases burst with color and vivacity. As Baldemor explained to The Daily Star, vivacious color is very present in his native country.
Music and dance are among the leitmotivs of Baldemor’s work. Vivid greens, blues, reds and yellows convey a dynamic, cheerful and soothing impression.
Some viewers with a taste for post-impressionism may find echoes of Paul Gauguin’s work in “A Journey of Colors,” particularly his series on French Polynesia. Whether Gauguin influenced Baldemor or not, the artists share a palette of lively tints.
There are also differences evident in the style of the Philippines and the Lebanon-themed work.
“Philippines [people] are colorful,” Baldemor explained, “but Lebanese are much more.”
While his Philippines-inspired works have been crafted using a more traditional technique, the Lebanese pieces are rendered in abstract figuration. This is how the artist perceives Lebanon.
The artist’s mixed-media Lebanese landscapes betray his interest in the country’s architectural heritage, and he repeatedly renders old buildings, castles and windows.
Baldemor’s depiction of Byblos castle is more detailed than his other paintings. Each rock of the edifice seems to have been represented, combined with blotches of red and black. Some of the patches of color he deploys, Baldemor explained, are meant to convey an impression of hope, something he also says he notices in Lebanese culture.
The two series of paintings on show in “A Journey of Colors” could be seen as the artist’s tribute to his home country and to the country that he says welcomed him so warmly.
This exhibition is a pleasant change of scenery. Though there are thousands of Philippines citizens in this country, many Lebanese don’t know much about Filipino culture. Baldemor provides a perfect occasion to discover its dynamism.
Marvin Baldemor’s “A Journey of Colors” is on show at the Zaitunay Bay Yacht Club until June 15. For more information, please call 71-216-508.