Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

For Lebanese-Syrian artist Rana Chalabi, Kahlil Gibran’s work continues to resonate. (Getty Images)
Updated 16 August 2018

Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

LONDON: What is it about the work of the famed Lebanese poet, writer and artist Kahlil Gibran that touches the hearts of so many people across the world today, decades on from his death in 1931? An exhibition of art inspired by his writings held this month at Sotheby’s in London provided an opportunity to consider that question
“Kahlil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” was organized by the peace building movement, Caravan, and co-curated by Janet Rady and Marion Fromlet Baecker. It featured work by 38 artists from across the Middle East. The vision for the exhibition grew out of a recent book on Gibran titled “In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran” by the Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, Caravan’s founding president.
Chandler is committed to breaking down cultural, racial and religious barriers. Through the Caravan initiative he has hosted numerous exhibitions using art to build bridges between the Middle East and the West. He sees the message contained in Gibran’s 1923 book “The Prophet” as profoundly relevant today.
Speaking to Arab News at the packed-out event, he said: “All the artists in this exhibition are trying to express how they have been inspired, challenged and encouraged by Gibran’s themes of peace, love and harmony for all of humanity. The thread running through all the work is the unique role that Gibran plays in reminding us that we are one family.
“The idea of the Caravan movement is that we are all journeying together, regardless of background, tradition or religion,” he continued. “The arts have a unique role in peace-building between the Middle East and the West.”
Lebanese-Syrian artist Rana Chalabi, who was raised in Lebanon, said she first read “The Prophet” at school, but made a point of re-reading it several times before starting work on her contribution to the piece, “On Giving.”
Her painting shows a throng of people gazing upwards at a transcendent figure — the Prophet — who seems to shimmer above the multitude in hues of gold.
“To me, Gibran’s Prophet represents an enlightened mystic,” she explained. “He was so ahead of his time and such a spiritual person.”
For Chalabi, Gibran’s work continues to resonate. “The wisdom of Gibran is very much needed today,” she said. “He could explain his ideas in a simple way to people. In his day he was misunderstood and branded a heretic by those who missed the essence of what he was saying and took his teachings at a very superficial level.”
Chalabi was clearly pleased to have been invited to submit work to Caravan’s exhibition.
“I believe in what Rev. Chandler is trying to do,” she said. “We have to bridge the differences in the world and try to understand each other’s religions, cultures and perspectives.”
Bahraini artist Lulwa Al-Khalifa showed a striking painting of a woman, titled
“Blind Faith.” The starkly expressive figure looks perplexed and stares out from the painting with an abstract and tense expression.
Al-Khalifa said: “There are a lot of emotions I wanted to convey through this work. I was exploring the concept of faith and how sometimes people have to abandon some of the ideas that give them their own sense of identity and take a leap of faith. I consider the question ‘How much of you are you prepared to surrender for your faith?’ Faith is surrender with cause but without proof. Sometimes people have to face ambivalence, fear and anxiety on this journey.”
Al-Khalifa also stressed how relevant Gibran outlook remains today.
“I love how Gibran explored many aspects of many themes. His thought process is very fresh and modern — even today,” she said. “It is not rigid, but very hopeful and expresses love and acceptance.
“I really believe that all people are united as human beings. But we try so hard to separate from each other, even though in reality we all have the same concerns and loves and hates. We should come together,” she continued.
Lebanese artist Christine Saleh Jamil echoed Al-Khalifa’s sentiments. “Gibran means so much to me. Reading his book ‘The Prophet’ taught me a lot about life, how to live peacefully and accept things in a harmonious way,” she said. “His message is very important today.”
Jamil created “The Wanderer,” a captivating image of Gibran as a child, for the exhibition. Her work, she said, was based on a photograph and inspired by Chandler’s book, which, she said, “took me back to my childhood in Beirut.”
“That’s why I chose to represent Gibran as a child and in this image you see his face set among birch trees, as he loved nature,” she explained.
Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK, Rami Mortada — a special guest at the event — spoke to Arab News about Gibran’s legacy.
“The interest shown here tonight and the big turnout is an indication of how the message he stands for is relevant, badly needed and timely in our world today,” Mortada said. “It is a message of harmony and peace, of removing barriers between nations and cultures, and of interfaith dialogue. This is what Gibran encapsulated. If I had to sum up his work up in one word, I would say (it is) inspirational.”
Another ambassador, Dr. Alisher Shaykhov from Uzbekistan, stressed that Gibran’s work is of truly global significance.
“Gibran’s fame extends far beyond the Middle East. He is a person who has succeeded in transferring the spirit of the Islamic people in a harmonious way,” he observed. “One of his most important messages is that of the unifying elements, rather than the differences, between religions. He has a gift of being able to express the feelings of the people. The artists here, imbued with his spirit, have transferred his message through their artworks in their own personal way.”
Art enthusiast Mira Takla said she had attended a number of ‘Caravan’ art events and always found their message very persuasive.
“As far as I am concerned these events do more for interracial understanding and comprehension and tolerance of different cultures than many other such initiatives,” she said.
Another guest. Anthony Wynn, gave a good example of Gibran’s cross-cultural appeal, pointing out that he had often heard Gibran quoted at weddings in the UK — particularly a verse from “On Marriage” from “The Prophet”:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love/Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls/Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup/Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf/Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone/Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”


LA Opera declines details on Placido Domingo investigation

Updated 17 August 2019

LA Opera declines details on Placido Domingo investigation

  • LA Opera announced it would engage outside counsel to investigate the ‘concerning allegations’
  • The American Guild of Musical Artists issued a statement calling for wider investigations across the opera world
SAN FRANCISCO: The Los Angeles Opera has declined to release any details of its promised investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against opera legend Placido Domingo, the company’s longtime general director, including whether it has already started.
The union that represents opera singers said Friday that it plans a meeting in Los Angeles next week to address its members’ concerns ahead of the LA company’s season opener Sept. 14.
Len Egert, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, told The Associated Press that the union has been receiving its own reports from members since an AP story earlier this week detailing accusations against the 78-year-old singing star.
Hours after the AP story was released Tuesday detailing the allegations, the LA Opera announced it would engage outside counsel to investigate the “concerning allegations.”
Three of the nine women who accused the singer of harassment and abuse of power described encounters they said took place while working with Domingo at the LA organization. The nine women and dozens of others interviewed said Domingo’s behavior was an open secret in the industry and that he pursued younger women with impunity.
On Friday, LA Opera would not disclose who would be conducting the investigation, how it would be carried out, when it would start or its expected duration.
A spokeswoman for the company said Friday LA Opera will share details when they have information and that there was currently nothing to add beyond the statement released Tuesday.
Domingo is widely credited with raising the profile of LA Opera, where he served as an artistic consultant from 1984 to 2000, artistic director from 2000 to 2003 and, finally, general director from 2003 until now. His current contract runs through the 2021-22 season.
In its initial statement, LA Opera said Domingo “has been a dynamic creative force in the life of LA Opera” but that it is committed to ensuring that its employees and artists “be treated respectfully and feel safe and secure.”
Domingo did not respond to detailed questions from the AP about specific incidents. But he issued a statement calling the allegations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate,” adding “I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual.”
The allegations in the AP story sparked a global discussion among opera singers on social media forums about the culture of sexual misconduct in the classical music world and the belief that opera companies have long been aware of bad behavior and tolerated it, particularly when the accused are people in positions of power.
Aside from LA Opera, the other women quoted in the story recounted incidents they said took place at other venues, including Washington Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, ranging from 1988 into the mid-2000s.
Some of the women told the AP that Domingo used his power at the LA company and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships, with several saying that he dangled jobs and then sometimes punished them professionally if they refused his advances.
The Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera announced they would cancel upcoming performances featuring the star. The Metropolitan Opera said it would await the results of LA Opera’s investigation “before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo’s future at the Met,” where he is scheduled to appear next month.
The American Guild of Musical Artists issued a statement calling for wider investigations across the opera world.
“AGMA became aware of serious allegations of sexual harassment made by multiple women against Placido Domingo. We have contacted our employers to demand investigations into these allegations,” said the statement issued earlier this week.
Since then, “through our confidential reporting system we have been receiving reports from members,” Egert said Friday. “We are providing timely, confidential advice and guidance to these artists.” He did not elaborate.
Egert said that AGMA will be “closely monitoring the internal LA Opera investigation” and has scheduled a membership meeting in Los Angeles early next week, prior to the start of rehearsals, to address any member concerns on questions. The LA Opera 2019-2020 season starts Sept. 14 with “La Boheme.”
Asked if the union was aware of Domingo’s alleged behavior previously, he said, “AGMA did not receive complaints from its members prior to the recent news reports.”