Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Special BeMA will showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and residency programs. (Supplied/WORKac)
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BeMA will showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and residency programs. (Supplied/WORKac)
Special Can the Beirut Museum of Art project help Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from its many traumas? (Supplied/WORKac)
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Can the Beirut Museum of Art project help Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from its many traumas? (Supplied/WORKac)
Special The New York-based architectural firm WORKac was approached in 2018 to design the new museum, due for completion in 2026. (Supplied/WORKac)
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The New York-based architectural firm WORKac was approached in 2018 to design the new museum, due for completion in 2026. (Supplied/WORKac)
Special Located in the upmarket Badaro district, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that divided Beirut during the civil war. (Supplied/WORKac)
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Located in the upmarket Badaro district, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that divided Beirut during the civil war. (Supplied/WORKac)
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Updated 21 May 2022

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
  • New York-based architects WORKac were approached in 2018 to design Beirut’s new art museum 
  • BeMA will stand on what was once the “green line” dividing the Lebanese capital during the civil war

DUBAI: For many Lebanese, the past can be a painful subject. A civil war destroyed large swaths of the country between 1975 and 1990. The postwar period has been marked by sectarian strife and government dysfunction.

But in spite of the traumas of recent decades, Lebanon remains a land of immense cultural wealth, with a rich history reflected in its architectural, cultural and anthropological heritage.

This is why the Beirut Museum of Art, or BeMA, which is due to open in 2026, has been billed as a “beacon of hope” in a country beset by political paralysis, economic decline and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

When Sandra Abou Nader and Rita Nammour launched the museum project, their goal was to showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and artist-in-residency programs.

“They realized that there was, in fact, very little visibility for the Lebanese artistic scene, within the country and abroad, and for Lebanese artists, whether modern or contemporary,” BeMA’s art consultant, Juliana Khalaf, told Arab News.




Compuer-generated views of BeMA. Described as a 'vertical sculpture garden,' it will feature three gallery floors that borrow elements from local art deco designs. (Supplied/WORKac)

About 700 works of art will be on display at the new venue, drawn from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture’s collection of more than 2,000 pieces, the bulk of which have been in storage for decades.

“We are going to be housing this very important collection,” said Khalaf. “We call it the national collection and it belongs to the public. It’s our role to make it, for the very first time, accessible. It’s never been seen before.”

The artworks, created by more than 200 artists and dating from the late-19th century to the present day, tell the story of this small Mediterranean country from its renaissance era and independence to the civil war period and beyond.

The collection includes pieces by Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran and his mentor, the influential late-Ottoman-era master Daoud Corm, who was renowned for his sophisticated portraiture and still-life painting.

Works by pioneers of Lebanese modernism, such as Helen Khal, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Saliba Douaihy, will also feature among the collection, as will several lesser-known 20th-century artists, including Esperance Ghorayeb, who created several rare, abstract compositions in the 1970s.

“The collection is a reminder of the beautiful heritage that we have,” said Khalaf. “It shows us our culture through the eyes of our artists.”

Among the priorities for the BeMA team, in partnership with the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, is the restoration of the collection, which includes several paintings and works on paper that have been damaged by war, neglect, improper storage or simply the passage of time.

Gathering information about the artists and their effects on Lebanon’s artistic heritage is another priority for the BeMA team, and is a task that has proved to be challenging given the dearth of published resources and the means to catalog them.

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* International Museum Day, held annual on or around May 18, highlights a specific theme or issue facing museums internationally.

“What was surprising was how little research there is out there and how much we need to do on that front, like getting the right equipment that is not currently available in the country to properly archive books and photography,” said Khalaf.

In 2018, the BeMA team approached WORKac, an architectural firm based in New York, for ideas about the new venue. Co-founded by Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, a Lebanese-born architect and former dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, WORKac has designed museums in California, Texas, New York and Florida.

For Andraos, who left Lebanon at the age of three, the chance to design a home for Beirut’s artistic heritage is particularly special.

“I think it’s a very personal project for everyone involved,” she told Arab News. “Everybody put their heart and soul into this idea that Beirut really needed a museum to house the national collection.

“For me, personally, I have a great attachment to Beirut, to its history, as well as architecturally, artistically and intellectually.”




"Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope, it's almost like a resistance to collapse," says Amale Andraos, the Lebanese-born architect and co-founder of architecture firm WORKac. (Supplied)

Given the country’s troubled past and complex identity, Andraos believes the museum’s collection will prove valuable in helping Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from past traumas.

“It’s an archive that we need to go back to, to understand who we are and how we move forward,” she said.

After the project was approved by city authorities, the first stone was laid at the site of the new museum in February. The initial phase requires Andraos and her team to examine the site for archaeological remains.

When complete, the museum will feature three gallery floors that borrow aesthetic elements from local Art Deco urban design. It has been described as an “open museum” and a “vertical sculpture garden,” owing to its cubic facade which will be embellished with bursts of greenery from top to bottom.

Andraos admits she was initially skeptical about the project. Lebanon is in the throes of multiple crises, including a financial collapse. Beirut, the capital, is yet to recover from the devastating blast at the city’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, when a warehouse filled with highly explosive ammonium nitrate caught fire and detonated, leveling an entire district.

All of this, combined with the additional economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused thousands of young Lebanese to move abroad in search of work and respite from the seemingly endless litany of crises.




Lebanon is experiencing financial collapse, economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment and hunger, increasing poverty and government dysfunction. (AFP)

For some people in the country, though, it is precisely because of these issues that a museum celebrating Lebanon’s cultural achievements is needed, perhaps now more than ever.

“When I recently presented the museum to a member of the BeMA board, I said: ‘This is probably the worst time for a museum,’ and he said: ‘This is the most important time for a museum because we need culture, education and ideas,’” said Andraos.

“When people are hungry, it’s like art versus food — but art is also food, in some ways, for the spirit and the mind.

“Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope and the country needs to build its institutions. It’s almost like a resistance to collapse. We have a history that is worth valuing, rereading, and a culture that we need to preserve and build on.”

This is not to say that the project was welcomed by everyone at the beginning.

“There’s no large public attendance of museums; it’s something that really needs to be developed,” Khalaf said. “In that respect, people felt like it was an unnecessary project.

“But now that people actually see that it’s a serious project and is happening, the attitude has changed. People say there’s something to look forward to.”

To date, about 70 percent of funding for the project has been allocated and a public appeal will soon be launched to make up any shortfall. Entry to the museum will be free.

Located in the leafy, upmarket, residential Badaro district in the heart of Beirut, known for its early-20th-century, art deco-influenced buildings, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that separated the east and west of the capital during the civil war.

“What’s nice about it now is that it might become the ‘museum mile,’ because there’s the National Museum, BeMA, Mim Museum, and if you just go further down, you’ll actually get to the Sursock Museum,” said Khalaf.

“It changes the perspective from a war-torn Beirut to a culturally alive Beirut.” 

__________

Twitter: @artprojectdxb

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Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih invited to join Academy of Motion Picture Arts

Famed composer Hesham Nazih. (Supplied)
Famed composer Hesham Nazih. (Supplied)
Updated 13 sec ago

Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih invited to join Academy of Motion Picture Arts

Famed composer Hesham Nazih. (Supplied)

DUBAI: Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih is among 397 individuals invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year.

The organization that puts on the Oscars said Tuesday that 44 percent of the 2022 class identifies as women, 50 percent come from outside of the US and 37 percent are from underrepresented ethnic and racial communities. If the invitees accept, which most do, they will have voting privileges at the 95th Academy Awards.

Nazih, the only Egyptian on this year’s list, joins Oscar winners Ariana DeBose, Troy Kotsur and Billie Eilish, as well as Iranian actor Amir Jadidi on the list.

Other actors invited this year include Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessie Buckley, Gaby Hoffman, “Belfast” co-stars Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe, as well as Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee, both of “The Power of the Dog.” 

The 95th Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on March 12, 2023.

Across more than 40 films over an award-winning 20-year-span, Nazih has heightened each project he’s scored, from “Son of Rizk” to “Blue Elephant.” Now, the composer for Marvel’s TV show “Moon Knight,” Nazih has officially made the crossover that only a handful of true international greats, such as Ennio Morricone and A.R. Rahman, have pulled off before him.

“I knew this was huge step for me,” Nazih previously told Arab News. “Working with Marvel was a game changer for my career. I had countless thoughts in my head, and I had to fight a lot of them off.”


Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists

The exhibition previously ran in Jeddah. (Supplied)
The exhibition previously ran in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 53 min 26 sec ago

Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists

The exhibition previously ran in Jeddah. (Supplied)

DUBAI: The 9th edition of the 21,39 Jeddah Arts exhibition is travelling to Dhahran’s Ithra — or the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture — for the first time.

Inspired by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu’s popular song “Al Amakin,” the exhibition opens at Ithra on June 30 and will run until Sept. 30.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by #SAC #ساك (@sacsaudi)

Leading art historian Venetia Porter curated the exhibition, which includes 28 regional and international artists who explore the notion of what “makan,” or place, means to them, demonstrating how their life experiences have shaped their relationship to different places, real and imagined.

“The notion of makan, or place, fell into sharp relief with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns around the world,” Porter said in a released statement. “That place where we live and perhaps took for granted became, for some of us, another country as we discovered familiar streets as though for the first time, observed in minute detail the changing of the seasons or listened to the birds. For others, our makan became a trap – a place to escape from that now caused us trauma and stress.”

Saudi artists Safeya Binzagr and Abdulhalim Radwi headline the show, which also features works by Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, a Sharqiyah-based Saudi modernist, as well as a bevy of other creative talents from Chile, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon and Palestine.

“This exhibition is a source of inspiration, and will evoke emotions within each visitor; emotions they did not know were lying dormant at the back of their minds,” said Farah Abushullaih, head of the Ithra Museum, in a released statement.

This is the first 21,39 exhibition to travel beyond Jeddah.


Opera icon Andrea Bocelli to perform in Abu Dhabi

The opera star has sold more than 90 million records worldwide. (AFP)
The opera star has sold more than 90 million records worldwide. (AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Opera icon Andrea Bocelli to perform in Abu Dhabi

The opera star has sold more than 90 million records worldwide. (AFP)

DUBAI: Lauded Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will return to the UAE for his fifth concert in Abu Dhabi in November.

The opera star, who has sold more than 90 million records worldwide and has been nominated for six Grammy Awards, will perform at Etihad Park on Yas Island on November 24.

No stranger to the region, in January, Bocelli performed to a packed auditorium in the iconic mirrored Maraya venue of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla.

“It is always an incredible experience to sing in the middle of the desert in AlUla,” he said at the time. “Coming from the noise and chaos of the big city, it is an educational experience for me to find myself in this idyllic and peaceful place away from the world.”

It was Bocelli’s fourth performance at Winter at Tantora, the Kingdom’s original music and cultural festival. He was accompanied on stage by Italy’s Asti Symphony Orchestra and sopranos Christine Allado, Serena Gambero and Clara Barbier Serrano.


Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 
Updated 30 June 2022

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 

CHENNAI: In many ways Rome plays second fiddle to Paris, a city that is often lauded as the most romantic and picturesque in the world. But if one were to watch Brandon Camp’s “Love & Gelato” — and read the novel by Gina Evans Welch upon which the movie is based — the Italian capital could soon replace Paris as the internationally recognized city of love. 

Indeed, Rome is a principal character in the film, with its aura of twinkling magic, imposing structures and grand Colosseum, as well as the haunting ruins of the world’s first shopping mall, Trajan’s Market (built between 100 and 110 AD). Wide-eyed Lina Emerson (Susanna Skagga) is so overwhelmed by these magnificent sights that it eases the pain of the recent loss of her mother, whose last wish was to see her daughter visit Rome where the older woman found her first love — Lina’s father.

The movie is based on the novel by Gina Evans Welch. (Supplied)

When a paranoid Lina, whose list of fears is seemingly endless, meets Lorenzo Ferrazza (Tobia De Angelis), she finds the pull of adventure so hard to resist that she jumps on his scooter as he races across a magically lit city, brought alluringly to life by cinematographer Thomas Scott Stanton. The initially hesitant Lina is also given a journal that her mother had kept when she lived in Italy, leading our protagonist to uncover a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries chock full of traditional Roman sweet buns called maritozzi.

“Love & Gelato,” now streaming on Netflix, may seem like a silly portrait of a young woman’s first flirtation, but Camp and author Welch transformed it into a story that will resonate with audiences due to Lina’s relationship with her late mother pushing the narrative forward. 

For cinema lovers, there are call-backs that make the movie a delight to watch — scenes of the Trevi Fountain will remind you of Federico Fellini's 1960 classic “La Dolce Vita,” with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg taking a midnight dip in the historic site. Meanwhile, seeing Lorenzo and Lina zip along on a scooter will remind ardent cinema fans of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in the unforgettable “Roman Holiday.” “Love & Gelato” may not be a great work on the level of those masterpieces, but it is sweet —as sweet as maritozzi!


Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’
Updated 30 June 2022

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’
  • The Egyptian actor on his stellar year starring in ‘Suits Arabia’ and ‘The Eight,’ his intense preparation process, and getting more involved on set

DUBAI: At this point, 2022 might as well be deemed the year of Asser Yassin. The Egyptian actor already dominated the global conversation in Ramadan as the lead in “Suits Arabia,” a remake of the beloved American legal series. Less than two months later, Yassin has followed it up with what is poised to be the series of the summer — MBC’s flagship crime thriller “The Eight,” which already has garnered rave reviews and big ratings.

“The ambition of ‘The Eight’ is something I’ve never experienced before,” Yassin tells Arab News. “The production budget is in line with a top show in Hollywood — the highest I’ve ever worked on. The crew was very international. But, most important for me, the character was someone I’d never played before, and he kept revealing himself as we went.”

Yassin plays Adam, a man who suddenly finds himself at odds with the gang he’s long belonged to, surviving his own execution only to set off on a path to revenge. The character, created by Saudi writer Turki Al-Shikh, turned out to be a greater challenge to figure out than Yassin had anticipated.

Mohammed Alaa (left) and Asser Yassin (center) in “The Eight.” (Supplied)

“For each film or series that I do, I write an extensive background history for the character just for myself, to figure him out. For this, I couldn’t find a reference to any other character, not only that I had done, but in any other film. He just felt different. It was really interesting to me,” Yassin continues.

Yassin himself is a lifelong cinephile, a man who abandoned his degree in engineering against his family’s wishes because his love for film was so great. During what little free time he had at university, he starred in short films with his friend, who happened to be the son of the legendary Egyptian realist Khairy Beshara, who during the Eighties and Nineties made some of Egypt’s most significant films, such as “El Towk Wa El Eswera” and “Yom Mor... Yom Helw.”

Beshara saw some of the two friends’ films and told his son that he wanted to work with Yassin. It was a moment that changed his life.

“He’s my second father, a man I still call constantly,” says Yassin of Beshara. “He changed the way I saw myself, how I saw film, and how I saw life itself.”

Lara Scandar and Asser Yassin in “The Eight.” (Supplied)

Yassin has modeled his own career after actors such as Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, and others, he says, pushing himself to the limit on nearly every project he takes — sometimes too far for his own physical and mental health. Adam, however, a desperate character with violence in his heart, did not make him think of any of the films he’s long admired. For Adam, he had to go to people he knew.

“First and foremost, I thought of my grandfather,” he says. “Adam doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s an idealistic guy who’s driven to revenge after the events of the first episode after his sister and fiancé die. My father and my grandfather come from rural Egypt. There, we understand revenge, and we understand family.

“My grandfather was a superb man, a military man, extremely well-read. But when I was four years old, he came to me and said, ‘Asser, there are only four people you go to jail for. Your father, your mother, your brother and your wife. You kill for these people,’” Yassin continues.

When he sat down to write his character’s background history, he also thought of the father of one of his best friends, a surgeon who, in his free time, hunted ducks on the land he owned in Beheira, near Alexandria in Egypt.

Asser Yassin and Mohammed Alaa on set. (Supplied)

“During the revolution, he was there hunting by himself. There were a group of people who decided that, since there was no security, they would go and take over the land. They went in with shotguns. To their surprise, he decided to fight back. Bullets started flying back and forth until he took to his car to run. They pursued him, still shooting, until his car flipped. They left, because they thought he’d died, but he survived,” says Yassin. “I imagined Adam sitting in the passenger seat of that car next to him.”

Yassin’s dedication on set was just as intense. With time, he’s learned to dedicate himself to the project overall, rather than just to his own performance.

“That’s something I’ve been doing on the last couple of projects,” he says. “I consider the whole show mine. I’m always there to give it my all, even if I’m not in the shot. It’s my project, it’s my baby. I literally spill blood for it, whether it’s in stunts, in anger or in stress. It was like that on ‘Suits’ as well. I’m there every moment with this intention in mind.”

On “The Eight,” that sometimes meant stepping in during moments of crisis. In one key stunt, a car packed with explosives was supposed to flip, after which Yassin’s character was supposed to escape in a helicopter. Yassin knew, as it the vehicle was one of the older Range Rovers with a low center of gravity, that it would be nearly impossible to pull off without proper preparation. “That went back to my engineering degree again,” he says.

Asser Yassin on set with Lara Scandar. (Supplied)

As the sun went down, Yassin sat with the stunt coordinator. The explosives in the car went off, but the vehicle didn’t flip. As the filmmakers scrambled to figure out what to do with a shot that was already blown, Yassin took matters into his own hands.

“I threw everything I had aside, ran into the scene, got onto the helicopter, and left,” he says. “We had to get it done.”

Ultimately though, while Yassin has grown to have the kind of outsized presence on set that is reserved for only the top leading actors, his goal is not to take charge, but to create a space conducive to creativity, from top to bottom.

“I hate negativity, because in the end we’re creating. If I have tension with a colleague, I have to smooth it over somehow, or give it time until it fades away,” he says. “I have to have a strong relationship on set with everyone, from the actors to the director to the cinematographer to the gaffer. We all have to be on the same frequency. We’re all equal, at the end of the day. You can’t do well when you’re the only one doing well.”

While Yassin’s dance card is full at the moment — he’ll be a lead character in the “Sons of Rizk” sequels and has two other films in the works — he is hoping that “The Eight” will come back for multiple seasons, especially due to the response it’s already gotten thus far, both in Saudi Arabia and across the region.

“I think it’s an amazing project. It’s so rich,” he says. “There’s so much left to reveal in this character, and I hope we’re able to let this story unfold in season two.”