Antiques combining the contemporary and the classical

BEIRUT: Tucked away in Souk al-Sagha, the jewelry market in the Beirut Souks, an exhibition is injecting a touch of modernism into a classic antiques show, creating funky and unique pieces of art.

“We are trying to show people a mix and match of classical culture with modern culture, either with the item itself or by playing with its form and adding a fun element or adding modern materials to classical pieces,” Hala Irani, one of the masterminds behind the exhibition, told The Daily Star.

The exhibition is called “Twisting the Traditional” and was put together by Hala Irani and Nadine B. Irani.

For 20 years, Hala worked as an antiques dealer at her own shop. She bought classical pieces and sold them on for profit, but the work eventually grew to bore her. She decided to team up with her sister-in-law Nadine, “a passionate modern art collector,” to form a fusion of two different worlds and styles. “We tried to combine both our passions together and we came up with this idea.”

The style is apparent in the artworks. For example, there is a 20th century Venetian cassapanca – or bench – repainted with modern typography in the style of artist Jimmie Morten. A cassapanca is a bench with a chest that traditionally held engaged women’s dowries. This particular cassapanca has been repainted in black and white – a modern style, Hala Irani said – and features a collection of words. “Joy, love, freedom, fabulous, glamour, funky” are some of the words on the cassapanca that evoke a sense of modernism and clash with the classical and culturally outdated idea of paying a dowry.

Paired with the cassapanca and hanging above it is a picture by Lebanese artist Selwan Ibrahim. The picture is drawn using charcoal on canvas. The blocky shapes recall famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso – though are less abstract. The tradition in this drawing is depicted by the two men wearing traditional Lebanese clothes and playing Arabic instruments: an oud and a derbake. Modernity can be found in the funky dots on their traditional long white sleeves.

There are also classical paintings reworked to add a modern style to them, which the art community calls “kitsch.” One is a renaissance style Italian painting of a woman, but a lit cigarette has been inserted into her right hand, she’s leaning on bottles of Coca-Cola and wearing Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. Another shows a woman painted in a classical fashion but her hair has been replaced by a blue, spiky Mohawk.

“Any person with classical taste can find something he likes in a twisted way,” Irani said. “And those with modern taste can feel as though they are going back to roots of modern concepts because all modern concepts have roots in classical cultures.”

Irani also said that the mix of styles and eras means that any piece will be a unique piece of art in your home – even if they are from the same designer. “When you do this there is no other identical object. Each piece will be so special so when you enter a house they are not identical.” Many of the pieces “should not be taken at face value,” Irani said, adding that there are “elements of parody” to many of the items on display.

Some of the pieces, such as a Chinese cabinet, has not been modernized but are paired with pieces that have. The traditional black and gold Chinese cabinet, for example, is paired with two busts of men that are painted in modish black and white. Another Italian cabinet has been relatively untouched on the outside but the interior has been furnished with neon blue lights that spell “love me.”

One of the most spectacular pieces is an embroidered Ottoman-era textile. It would be a crime to alter it, so to add a touch of modernity Irani exquisitely added a florescent neon orange frame with lighting coming from behind.

“There is the spirit of old and the spirit of new,” she said. “Our slogan is something old and something new, create your own style that is completely new.”

“Twisting the Traditional” is shown at Souk al-Sagha, Beirut Souks 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. until Dec. 7.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 03, 2014, on page 2.




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