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)
1 / 4
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)
2 / 4
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)
3 / 4
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)
4 / 4
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)
Short Url
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.

FASTFACT

* 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

Rewilding Arabia
Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife

Enter


keywords

 


Museum of the Future unveils bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow during event in Paris

Museum of the Future unveils bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow during event in Paris
Updated 01 July 2022

Museum of the Future unveils bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow during event in Paris

Museum of the Future unveils bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow during event in Paris
  • Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, described the new museum as the latest addition to the list of world’s most celebrated cultural landmarks
  • He was speaking during the 26th International Trade Show for Museums, a prestigious three-day event that took place at the Louvre Museum this week

PARIS: The UAE’s Museum of the Future has unveiled its bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow. It presented its ideas during the 26th International Trade Show for Museums, a three-day event at the Louvre Museum in Paris that attracted many of the world’s leading cultural institutions.

The delegation at the event, which concluded on Thursday, was led by Khalfan Belhoul, the CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, and also included Lath Carlson, the executive director of the Museum of the Future, and Majed Al-Mansoori, its deputy executive director.

The museum, which is located in Dubai’s Financial District and opened in February, was invited to attend the trade show to share its ideas for incubating a new generation of talent and helping to build a better future for humanity.

By embracing the latest breakthroughs in advanced technology, its team also aims to offer unparalleled visitor experiences and help to stimulate the cultural economy of Dubai.

“Our presence here in Paris represents a golden opportunity to engage with like-minded peers and establish deeper ties as we create pioneering experiences in a museum focused on making history by perceiving the future,” Belhoul said.

He described the Museum of the Future as the latest addition to the list of the world’s most celebrated cultural landmarks and added that it has set new benchmarks in the design and development of cultural landmarks.

“Today, it serves as an incubator for bright minds to accelerate big ideas that can strengthen Dubai’s position as a place to address some of the world’s most complex challenges,” he said.

By embracing cutting-edge technology and the pursuit of innovation to drive social, economic and environmental growth, Dubai is helping to unify global efforts to build a better future for humankind, added Belhoul.


What We Are Playing Today: Akfosh

What We Are Playing Today: Akfosh
Updated 01 July 2022

What We Are Playing Today: Akfosh

What We Are Playing Today: Akfosh
  • This Arabic card game is a great deal of fun to play with a large group

Akfosh is an Arabic game that contains 55 picture cards on various subjects, including Saudi cultural items, well-known locations across the country, and even fruit and vegetables.

The Saudi-specific fashion items include the shemagh (male headdress), burqa, madas (sandal), dallah (coffee pot), finjan (coffee cup), and miswak (twig to clean your teeth). The landmarks include Jeddah’s fountain and the Kingdom Center in Riyadh, while the other cards feature Arab-related icons such as tents and camels.

The game allows between two and eight players to participate. There are different styles of playing, with the most popular having every player with one card face down in front of them, and the rest of the deck placed in the middle. When the game starts, each player flips their card to see it and then tries to grab a matching one from the middle first. The player with the most cards wins.

Akfosh is one of my favorite Arabic card games and is a great deal of fun to play with a large group. It relies on your visual observation, and it gets everyone competitive because it is so fast-paced.

Carrying the small box is quite easy, it fits perfectly in my handbag. I always have my Akfosh cards with me if I know many people will be at a gathering or outing. It is a fun activity that brings people together.

The game suits all ages and can be found across the Kingdom at Virgin megastores, Jarir bookstores, and even through online platforms such as Noon, Lifestyley and Amazon.

 

 


‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears
Updated 30 June 2022

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears

DUBAI: US-Iranian actor Sam Asghari has opened up about his marriage to pop superstar Britney Spears in his first interview since their June wedding.

The actor and dancer appeared on “Good Morning America” in a segment that aired Wednesday to promote his film, “Hot Seat.”

“The husband thing hasn’t hit me yet,” Asghari said, before discussing the wedding and saying, “It was way overdue for us. We imagined this thing being a fairytale, and it was. And we wanted to celebrate with, you know, our loved ones, our close people. We wanted to just celebrate, and that’s what we did.”

Until November 2021, Spears was under a conservatorship, which was handled by her estranged father Jamie Spears, and was unable to get married.

 

 

Following the termination of the conservatorship, the pair wed on June 9 in an intimate ceremony at their Los Angeles home. Guests included Madonna, Selena Gomez, Drew Barrymore, Paris Hilton, and Donatella Versace.

The up-and-coming actor is starring in the film “Hot Seat,” in which he plays a SWAT team officer alongside Shannen Doherty, Kevin Dillon, and Mel Gibson.

“My wife gave me, like, this amazing platform to work with,” he said. “So I’m always appreciative of that. And I’m always so grateful for that. I don’t take any opportunity that I have for granted, and I really try to stay positive with everything that’s happening.” 

They began dating in 2016 after meeting on the set of her “Slumber Party” music video.


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

Famed composer Hesham Nazih. (Supplied)
Famed composer Hesham Nazih. (Supplied)
Updated 30 June 2022

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 invited this year, 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

Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists
Updated 30 June 2022

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

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

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.

Asma Bahmim “Wandering Walls.” (Supplied)

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.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

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.

Badr Ali, notebooks and sketches. (Supplied)

“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.