BEIRUT: Many elementary school graduates, this writer included, have undergone art lessons, which usually have a ceramics and pottery component. Whenever Christmas and Mother’s Days rolled around, we youngsters were given the mission to produce a beautiful piece of art for our loved ones. Guidelines were never part of the assignment, of course. Then, our parents – or some other lucky recipient – would be given the opportunity to become thespians, conjuring up an aspect of enthusiasm for the unidentifiable artwork that had been bestowed upon them.
Happily, visitors to Saifi’s SV Gallery no longer have to wait for their toddlers to reach elementary school before they too have the pleasure of deciphering childlike ceramic work. Credit for this sleight of hand must go out to Hana Kaaki, Ibtissam Rifai and Joseph Honein, whose works have been gathered together for an exhibition the SV has imaginatively entitled “Ceramic Exhibition.”
Each of these three Lebanese artists has cultivated their own distinct approach to the medium.
A gradaund of the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, as well as certain Paris workshops, who has exhibited at AUST, Kaaki has found inspiration in skulls, balloons and vinyl.
Hung on the wall, her series of round ceramics use an antique medium to represent a contemporary vision. Other works of hers associate the lightness of a balloon and the heaviness of a skull. The object that emerges from this conceptual pairing is eccentric. Another work resembles a rocket. Others represent items that might be termed enigmatic.
The 23 sculptures and three mixed-media paintings Rifai has on display at the SV have emerged from a practice devoted to representations of the Arabic alphabet. Aside from noting each letter, and perhaps pronouncing it to yourself as you do, there isn’t much to be said about the works.
Perceptive viewers will notice cracks in some of Rifai’s works, which of course can happen when raw clay is fired in the oven. One of these works appears to have been broken – and porcelain pieces have been known to shatter when hammered from their molds. This one appears to have been glued together again.
If this is indeed the story of this work, then you could view it in one of two ways. Those of an avant-garde frame of mind might appreciate this salvage-as-art approach. Others, of a more conventional bent, may wonder why the piece is on display in a gallery rather than at a garage sale.
The most engaging works in this show are those of Honein. His focus is on the dismemberment of his figures, but there is nothing obscure or disgusting in the Plexiglas-mounted objects he creates.
One of Honein’s untitled works depicts a figure made out of colorful wires, lying down on a ceramic bench. It might be depicting a figure taking a rest, were it not for the rope-like element that binds it to the bench – the legs of which have been replaced by feet.
Another wire figure stands holding an enormous ceramic package on his back. Grace and gravitas alternate with subtlety in this piece.
Only one of Honein works, an untitled mixed-media piece, is hung on the wall. A large Plexiglas panel is covered with ceramic feet. The gallery has given no information as to what the artist might be getting at with this work, but it is quite nice to look at.
That is the extent of what can be said about “Ceramic Exhibition.” It assembles the work of three artists with three different ceramic practices. If you are searching for an exhibition that will not be too intellectually taxing – or looking to buy a piece of something decorative for an empty spot in your house – this is it.
If you’re looking for something more meaningful, just keep walking.
“Ceramic Exhibition” is running until May 24 at Saifi’s SV Gallery. For more information, please call 01-975-655.