Selections reviews some of this season’s most intriguing exhibitions
Galerie Janine Rubeiz
November 4 to 26
Bassem Geitani’s latest solo exhibition at Galerie Janine Rubeiz dealt with reality and illusion, fact and faith, dogma and exploitation. The artist worked with rusted iron shrapnel to create a series of 19 seemingly abstract shapes, swathed in blue linen, like bodies wrapped in shrouds. Only when glimpsed in a mirror did the shapes resolve themselves into words — each one a calligraphic rendering of one of the 99 names of Allah.
The centrepiece of the show was a conical mirrored structure resembling a missile, pointed directly at the viewer. Around it, a line of calligraphy formed a circle, which became legible once reflected in the mirrored cone: “Between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths.” The figures referred to the estimated number of people killed during Lebanon’s sectarian-driven, 15-year Civil War. Shathaya neatly explored the hypocrisy of killing in the name of religion through the symbolism of the mirror, which suggesting a double reading, whereby appearances are deceptive.
Scion of Light
December 9 to 23
Prolific Lebanese painter and sculptor Maroun Hakim’s latest solo show consisted of a series of 26 colourful landscape paintings, completed in the space of a single year. Inspired by the beauty of nature, Hakim sought to capture the colours and atmospheres of the four seasons. Based on the artist’s direct observations, the paintings celebrate and amplify the beauty of Lebanon’s pastoral scenes.
In keeping with the exhibition title, Hakim’s paintings had a luminous quality, as though lit from within. Impressionistic daubs of brightly coloured acrylic paint captured fields dotted with vivid wild flowers or bogged down with winter rain, ponds studded with lilies — a la Monet — and rolling hills clad in the tender green of spring grass, shielded by thick layers of snow or transformed into fiery orange and yellow hummocks by autumn leaves. Bold, bright and evocative, his paintings emphasized both the diversity and the inevitability of the changing seasons.
Agial Art Gallery
December 10 to January 2
Born in 1969, the son of Michel Basbous, Anachar Basbous lives and works in Rachana, the village full of open-air sculptures created by his father and two uncles, for which he is named — Anachar is Rachana backwards. Basbous’ latest works, on show at his eponymous solo exhibition, were smaller than the pieces he has exhibited in recent years. Sculptures in stainless steel, brass, corten steel, marble and basalt played with curves and points, juxtaposing exterior and interior spaces.
Repetitions of and variations on a single geometric shape were stuck together to form new, more complex compositions, in keeping with Basbous’ preference for building his works up — rather than carving them out — from his chosen material. From the sleek finish of polished brass to the rough, pitted surface of shaped basalt, the pieces shared a sense of intrinsic weightlessness and balance, while presenting a different aspect from each new angle.
Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala
August 26 to January 2
Wael Shawky’s latest solo show at Sfeir-Semler Gallery was named for the final work in his trilogy of films about the Crusades, in which he uses marionettes to present the historic military campaigns from the perspective of Arab leaders. The gallery also screened Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo, the second film in the trilogy. The first, Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File, had its premiere at the gallery in 2010.
Together, the three films recount the bloody history of the Crusades, and were initially inspired by Amin Maalouf’s book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. The first was made using 200-year-old wooden marionettes from Italy, the second with handcrafted ceramic puppets, and the third with specially commissioned marionettes made of Murano glass. A selection of these delicate puppets — works of art in their own right, combining human and animal features — was displayed at the gallery, along with a large-scale installation and drawings based on the film’s scenery, providing a fascinating insight into Shawky’s complicated and elaborate creative process.
Driven by Storms (The Notebooks)
November 13 to January 9
Driven by Storms (The Notebooks), a solo show featuring work by Iraqi artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, followed on from a larger exhibition held earlier in 2015 at Ayyam Gallery Dubai, curated by Nat Muller. The exhibition featured work inspired by an exchange between Alfraji and his nephew Ali, who sent the artist a handwritten letter about his longing to escape the violence of Baghdad. The child included a small drawing of a boat, illustrating his desire to sail away from Iraq to Holland, where Alfraji is based.
The dozens of black-and-white drawings in the Beirut iteration of the show paired the artist’s own experiences of exile, and dream of returning to the vanished Baghdad of his childhood, with his nephew’s fantasy of sailing away from war. The exhibition was centred around Alfraji’s notebooks, providing insight into his working process. A hypnotic video animation consisting of an animated drawing conveyed a story of displacement from Iraq in a surreal, moving stream of consciousness.
Tra Due Fuochi
Beirut Exhibition Center
December 14 to January 10
This solo exhibition, organised in collaboration with Agial Art Gallery, featured work by Syrian artist and jeweller Jean Boghossian. Co-founder of the Boghossian Foundation, the artist had a first solo show at the Beirut Exhibition Center in 2011, entitled Burning. In Tra Due Fuochi, he exhibited the continuation of his series of pieces created using fire as a medium, a technique he landed on after experimenting with a wide variety of media, including drawing, oil painting, charcoal, watercolour, folding and collage.
Curated by art critic and president of the Burri Foundation Citta di Castello in Italy Bruno Cora, the exhibition focused on Boghossian’s attempts to create balanced compositions by harnessing the unpredictable element of fire and smoke. The resulting works, which included books, canvas, paper and plastic marked by fire, displayed an intriguing sense of randomness and lack of control, resulting in a wild beauty.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Interventions Issue #34, on page 22.