Culture

The great, the good and the grievously gruesome

BEIRUT: A conglomeration of yellow motherboards hangs in an uneven heart-shaped formation on one wall. Covered with miniscule metal protrusions that form grids, like cities glimpsed from far above, together their mysterious markings make a familiar shape: the outline of a cockerel. Youssef Nehme’s playful “Weathervane” is one of dozens of works on show at Verdun’s UNESCO Palace this week as part of “Visual Art Forum V: Lebanese Contemporary Art.”

Last year’s edition of the annual group show by the Lebanese Artists’ Association featured more than 100 works, crowded into the venue’s two large halls like puzzle pieces. This year, the association has scaled things back a bit. A total of 66 artists, 60 percent of them women, are showcasing works of painting, photography and sculpture.

Alongside them four Lebanese artists have been selected to be “honored,” a distinction that allows them to showcase four or five works.

Veteran Lebanese painter Hassan Jouni is represented by five colorful oils, capturing groups of figures. A family crowded onto a motorbike seems to rush by in a smear of speed, denoted by a few well-judged brushstrokes. A line of figures sits behind a long table bearing a cloth adorned with painted houses that conjure up old Beirut.

Also selected for a timely honoring this year is Amman-born Lebanon-based sculptor Mona Saudi. A couple of her distinctive, softly curved marble works are displayed alongside two silk screen prints from her series “Homage to Mahmoud Darwish,” which pairs angular figures with lines from the great poet’s work.

Magical realist works hang alongside two finely executed nudes in the section dedicated to Lebanese painter Samir Abi Rached. The photorealistic works contrast dramatically with the erotic dreamscapes and underwater visions captured in his characteristically surreal works of fantasy.

The final artist whose work is highlighted in this year’s exhibition is sculptor Antoine Berberi. A selection of small bronzes captures Lebanese icons. Among them is politician and journalist Ghassan Tueni – the former head of Al-Nahar newspaper who passed away in 2012 – and singer and actor Wadih Al Safi, who died late last year.

Elsewhere, each artist is represented by a single work, making for a diverse and disparate selection. Several aesthetically pleasing photographs are grouped together in the corner of one hall. Among them is Rasha Ibrik’s “Standing Strong,” a striking work capturing a woman in a bright red dress standing beside a stormy sea. The subject is in perfect focus, while the churning waters around her are artfully blurred.

As in previous editions, the quality of the paintings on display varies wildly. Some are accomplished and visually interesting, while others are childlike in their simplicity. Several resemble the pretty yet uninspired watercolors sold to tourists off street stalls in most major cities, while others look like the artist was exorcising some demons.

The smaller selection of work has allowed the committee to make a better job of hanging the pieces than last year and the show feels less cramped and chaotic as a result. Those who have attended previous editions will know what to expect. Those who have yet to give it a try should prepare for every eventuality.

Visual Art Forum V continues at UNESCO Palace in Verdun until Oct.4. For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/events/750527158353406

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 01, 2014, on page 16.

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