BEIRUT: Four months after the Aug. 4 blast wrecked Art on 56th, the small Gemmayzeh gallery has reopened with a commemorative exhibition titled “Comeback 2020.”
Tucked away in a 100-year-old building severely damaged by the explosion, and with several team members wounded, it was uncertain whether the space would reopen. This exhibition marks gallery owner Noha Moharram’s determination to continue engaging with the local art community.
“After the explosion we thought about packing up and leaving but then I thought, ‘I don’t want to leave.’ I love Beirut and personally put in a lot of effort to move back here after studying abroad when I was younger because I was attached to the place,” Moharram told The Daily Star. “This exhibition is a bit of resilience to say we must stay and that the cultural landscape of Gemmayzeh would be a great loss if we gave up. A lot of galleries suffered here.
“We’ve become like one family with all the artists we’ve worked with and if we shut what will they do?” she added. “Sure there are some other galleries, but they’re also struggling and might shut themselves. Then the artists have nowhere to go. It’s been really hard and four months of torture with all the repairs and challenges but we have to fight and come back.”
The group show combines pieces damaged in the blast – some repaired, others left broken – with work by artists who have had a long-standing relationship with the gallery.
“I picked pieces and artists I really love and wanted to give a bit of hope to say we can get back on our feet,” Moharram said. “Tarek Butayhi started with us nine years ago with his first-ever exhibition and has really become part of the family.
“For him, the woman is the center of his paintings and even though he does other stuff about politics and children, the figure of the woman is very important to him so we chose of those portraits,” she added. “Semaan Khawam works by recycling his own waste plastic, paper, wood etc. When the garbage crisis started, he began thinking about what he could do with all the trash he had piling up so started making these sculptures of birds to pass the time.”
A small room of the gallery has been decorated with these bird sculptures, with the sound of birdsong playing in the space.
In the main hall, the collage works of Alaa Abou Shaheen are also eye-catching – detailing two characters, a donkey and a man of authority who considers himself smarter than the animal. Shaheen’s art always shows the donkey as the creature of superior intellect.
A new exhibition by Ghalyan Safadi was supposed to open at the gallery on Aug. 6. When the blast ripped through the space, Safadi’s work, which had been hung the week before, suffered some damage. Among the works was a painting showing 1,000 faces, which was punctured by flying glass.
“Because it survived the explosion, and he repaired where four pieces of glass tore it, I felt it was appropriate to show it,” Moharram said. “There were also others like a ceramic vase by Joseph Barchini which had the top cut off, and we left it like that and I love it as it is.”
The show currently has no end date, other than “until the phoenix rises.” Given the uncertainty in the country, the gallery is finding it difficult to make any concrete plans, but has three shows that could go ahead next year.
“We’ll leave [the current exhibition] up and maybe change out or add pieces to the show,” Moharram said. “Usually I’m booked out two years ahead, but now I can’t do anything and we can’t be sure. Supposedly, we have an exhibition by Tarek Butayhi in February, followed by Ghaylan Safadi.
“We even have the invites and papers all printed for [an exhibition] by Mahmoud Hamadani, who works on visualizing the melodies of Bach in a minimalist way, which was delayed since when revolution started, so we’ll put it on in the coming year,” she added. “If we can put 2020 behind our backs and move on, then we have these three tentatively planned.”
“Comeback 2020” is up at Art of 56th, Gemmayzeh, 3-7 p.m.