NABATIEH, Lebanon: “Natural sculptures carved by God,” is how Ali Rizk described the wood and stone pieces he displays in his personal museum, at his Ain Qana home in Nabatieh.
Rizk collects precious stones and other objects that make their way to shore from the sea. He calls them natural works of art and displays them for everyone to see.
The wooden pieces in Rizk’s collection were once remnants from ruins and tree trunks and have been reshaped by high-water pressure and sediment along the Zahrani and Awali river systems.
Some of these pieces are reminiscent of animal shapes and other symbols, with details so precise that Rizk finds it remarkable that they are not man-made.
A trunk of an olive tree, for example, looks a lot like an arrow through a heart shape after years of water-driven weathering and erosion.
Rizk began his hobby of collecting his natural works of art when he worked to gather firewood at the basin of the Zahrani and Awali rivers. He noticed that they appeared on the shore in great numbers after storms and harsh water conditions.
“I noticed that among the pieces of firewood there were some pieces that looked more like [carved] art pieces than regular wood,” he said.
He held up a piece of wood that resembled the shape of an alligator and another which he said “can’t be differentiated from the shape of a saluki dog raising its tail.”
Every day, as Rizk searches along the seashore for chunks to sell as firewood, he also collects these pieces for his museum. Rizk’s latest excavation yielded the wooden head of a camel, snakes, an eagle and a lizard. Others resemble a basket of fruit, cow, elephant and lion heads as well as one that looks like a guitar.
Rizk believes there are no coincidences in his quest for nature’s art pieces. “My car broke down near the village of Tallet Sojod, and while I was searching for big stones I found this one stone that looks exactly like a seal,” he said.
After this discovery, Rizk expanded his search and discovered some stones that looked like a sheep and a human head.
Rizk decided to share his discoveries by opening a museum in his residence but did not want to charge visitors. He is content to exhibit them to “whoever wants to enjoy the carvings of the Creator.”
Rizk does not find the scientific reasons suggesting that natural water cycle processes and salinity account for the uncanny wood and stone formation very convincing.
“Even if I gave in to these ideas I still believe these things have a certain purpose that only God knows,” he said.
Rizk added that he believes the most beautiful carving in his possession is a piece that looks like a human hand raising a victory sign, resembling a sculpture in Bint Jbeil that was made after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
The art pieces have left a lasting impression on Rizk, who is now starting to carve pieces of his own.
Rizk emphasizes, however, that he does not interfere with the natural design or attempt to enhance the pieces he finds in nature.
He asked that officials from the Culture Ministry pay him a visit and acknowledge and raise awareness for his natural museum.
“Everyone comes to our home [to see the pieces] but the municipality doesn’t care. We have a natural and ecological museum here but not one official has paid us a visit,” complains Rizk’s wife Fatima Shdid.