Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate, 2021. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 May 2022

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
  • The pavilion showcases the country’s cultural power during ongoing political and economic crises

VENICE: Inside an amply lit space in the Arsenale, one of the most prominent exhibition areas at the Venice Biennale, multimedia installations in Lebanon’s pavilion depict the beauty and chaos that has befallen the country after several years of economic and political crises.

There’s Ayman Baalbaki’s arresting 2021 work “Janus Gate” — a two-sided installation (named for the Roman god of beginnings, endings, transitions and time, usually depicted with two faces) covered in the artist’s abstract expressionist brushstrokes, which underlines the idea of a fragmented city. The vibrant front is typical of Baalbaki’s expressionistic painting style; it features the media panels placed on construction sites depicting an artist’s rendition of what the building will look like decorated with neon lights and spray-paint, imposing the lively chaos of the capital city’s present onto corporate promises of a brighter future.

Walk through a doorway to the back side and the visitor is confronted by a dimly lit olive-green monochrome recreation of a watchman’s hut, with a washing line and small table outside. From inside the hut comes a red light showing, Baalbaki explains, “the heat of a living creature.” The olive-green is a deliberate reference to the military, and how the civil wars in Lebanon and Syria turned civilians into soldiers. The red light alludes to the thermal signatures visible through night-vision scopes.




Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate, 2021. (Supplied)

Baalbaki’s installation, like Janus, combines the past, present and future. It gracefully depicts the stoicism and resilience of the average citizen in the face of chaos.

Across from it, a haunting split-screen movie by Lebanese-French filmmaker and artist Danielle Arbid titled “Allô Chéri” (2022) plays. It is shot from inside a car driving through Beirut. The soundtrack is a woman narrating how she is constantly chasing money. That woman is Arbid’s mother.

Arbid was born in Lebanon in 1970. She moved to Paris aged 17. In 1997, she directed her first film. Since then, she has alternated between fiction, first-person documentaries, and video essays, and works as a photographer. Her work has won numerous awards and been the subject of several retrospectives.




Ayman Baalbaki. (Supplied)

For “Allô Chéri,” Arbid installed a recording device in her mother’s mobile phone (with her mother’s consent) and soon discovered that her mother was running her own banking system — a result of Lebanon’s financial collapse and the need for the people to access money through other means than the official economic system.

“I discovered my mother’s turbulent financial life,” Arbid told Arab News. “Secrets of debts that she hid from us, but that we (guessed at), because she was very stressed during this period. My mother’s life resembles the economic life of Lebanon today.”

The film also shows Arbid’s mother wandering the streets of Beirut. Like those around her, she looks for answers and clings on to hope, but clearly carries with her the despair and weight of the tragedies that have befallen her city.




Aline Asmar d’Amman. (Supplied)

“Allô Chéri” is one of a series of nine films that Arbid has been working on for several years titled “My Lebanese Family.” Each family member has a film focused on them, each in a different genre.

Lebanon’s participation at the 59th Venice Biennale is only the second in its history, and considering all that has transpired in the country, exhibiting in Venice is a feat that goes against all odds.

The pavilion was inaugurated one month before the Lebanese went to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections — ones which resulted in victory for some opposition candidates, spelling momentary celebration for those hoping for change. A desire and commitment to change and to Lebanese heritage and culture can similarly be felt in Venice — but through art.

The Lebanese state provided no money to stage the show; it was entirely privately funded by generous Lebanese art collectors and patrons.




Danielle Arbid. (Supplied)

“The private sector wanted to make sure that Lebanon was well-represented,” Lebanese art collector and patron Basel Dalloul, one of the pavilion’s funders, told Arab News. “The exhibition does represent Beirut’s contemporary art movement. It portrays a commentary on the two sides of Beirut echoing the ancient Roman god of Janus and his two two-faces.”

The Lebanese Visual Art Association (LVAA) organized the Lebanese Pavilion under the patronage of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, who mandated Nada Ghandour to curate the show. The two artists — Arbid and Baalbaki — were chosen to provide two different but connected viewpoints on contemporary Beirut. Arbid has witnessed her country’s travails from the diaspora, whereas Baalbaki lives and works in Beirut.

“This year, the Lebanese Pavilion comes to life in spite of the extremely challenging times that Lebanon is going through, and the political, economic, and social turmoil that the Lebanese are facing,” Ghandour told Arab News. “By placing the Lebanese Pavilion in the Arsenale, I wanted to show that Lebanon still exists on the world art map and also to send a strong message to artists in Lebanon to encourage and motivate them; to show them that there is support for them, and also promote Lebanon’s contemporary art scene, an important sector for the country.




Danielle Arbid, Allô Chérie, 2015. (Supplied)

“The exhibition invites viewers on a symbolic journey into our contemporary world through a theme, a city, and two artists who maintain a political and aesthetic dialogue from a distance, by presenting artworks which are so far and yet so close,” she continued.

Paris-based Lebanese architect Aline Asmar d’Amman, who designed the pavilion.

“My first intuition was to express a powerful message of hope and unity from Lebanon to the world,” d’Amman told Arab News. “The circular brutalist egg-shaped envelope is a symbolic gesture, a tribute to the cinema of Joseph Karam in Beirut and the experimental theater by Oscar Niemeyer in Tripoli, both monuments that became ruins during the civil war. The structure is open like an oculus, revealing the magnificent wooden framework of the Arsenal. Ayman’s monumental sculptural installation and Danielle’s energetic images travelling through the streets of Beirut, framed in the circle, incarnate the dialogue and the deep plunge into our beloved city.”

Through their artworks, those two artists poignantly — and at times painfully — relay the beauty and decay of the city of Beirut and life as they once knew it in Lebanon.

Baalbaki, born in 1975 — the year the Lebanese Civil War started — has long been one of Lebanon’s most acclaimed artists, known for his work that focuses on political and social issues relating to Lebanon and the Arab world, particularly the conflicts that have ravaged the region.

“The city of Beirut for me is just as Foucault says: ‘A heterochronic space,’ meaning within one space there are several other spaces — utopian and real at the same time,” Baalbaki explained. “You feel like Beirut stretches forward and backward. Janus has two heads: one head faces backwards and another forward. He symbolizes the beginning and the end of time. And, with time, there is a promise of the future.”


1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez

1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez
Updated 07 February 2023

1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez

1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez

DUBAI: Qatar-based ready-to-wear label 1309 Studios, founded by entrepreneur Ghada Al-Subaey, has been garnering the attention of international stars, including Argentinian model Georgina Rodriguez.

The star, who now lives in Saudi Arabia with her boyfriend Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo, wore one of Al-Subaey’s abayas during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha.

Al-Subaey told Arab News that one of her brand’s key goals was to modernize the traditional abaya and “make it accessible to every woman around the world.

“Having Georgina walk into a boutique and pick our abaya off the rack and wear it for such an important event means that we have managed to reach that goal in making the abaya versatile and wearable. She picked one of our signature abayas the palm sage green,” she said.

Rodriguez wore the design with a figure-hugging black dress, silver heels, and a white Chanel bag.

1309 Studios is grounded in a contemporary bohemian aesthetic. At the heart of the brand is a minimalist, feminine look that merges seasonal trends with traditional Qatari elements.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 1. (Supplied)

Clean silhouettes, bold colors, artful prints, and carefully considered details are hallmarks of the brand. The designer draws inspiration from art, nature, and global culture to create pieces with a contemporary edge.

“When I was a teenager, I found myself exploring fabrics and creating styles that weren’t available in Qatar at the time. I began designing kaftans for family and friends during college and that’s where it all started,” Al-Subaey added.

Before she launched her brand in 2015, she ran her small business from home and relied on word of mouth to increase the hype around her designs.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 2. (Supplied)

She said: “That was when I conceptualized and worked on launching my own brand. I saw that there was a gap, there was a need to create a community in Qatar where women can turn to take care of their emotional wellbeing and leave no stone unturned to make it into a reality.”

The brand name 1309 is a nod to Al-Subaey’s mother.

“13/09 is my mother’s birthday. The name is dedicated to my mother, as I got my fashion sense from her. I used to watch her stitch and cut when I was younger, I learned all about fabrics and stitching from my mother,” she added.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 3. (Supplied)

Al-Subaey’s designs, which are shipped worldwide and are available in stores in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Qatar, are tailored in Qatar. She uses sustainable, natural, and vegan fabrics, as well as biodegradable packaging.

She said: “We also recycle scrap fabric and turn it into furniture. We rely on human skills and avoid the use of machinery as much as possible.”

And her designs are not just sketches that she brings to life, she puts thought into the design process to understand how the pieces she is creating will emotionally affect the person wearing it.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 4. (Supplied)

“I want people to feel relaxed and most like themselves while wearing a 1309 piece of clothing. A lot of times when people are not comfortable in their clothes, they are not themselves.

“The idea behind the 1309 studio woman is to create a safe place for women. A place where women come together to empower and uplift each other professionally and otherwise; to develop a platform where women feel free to speak up and support and take a moment to heal from the daily challenges of life in today’s fast-paced technological world.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 5. (Supplied)

“The clothes they wear should not be a restraint. The fabrics, colors, and cuts that I choose make the girls feel fun and alive. It should feel like an outfit, rather than a covering for an outfit.

“The fabric we use at 1309 is meant to complement various body types and shapes,” she added.

Al-Subaey is working to grow her brand globally.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 6. (Supplied)

She said: “I want to change this stigma around abayas. I want abayas to become as respected globally as kimonos and to see everyone around the world wearing them; not necessarily to cover the body, but instead as a fashion statement.

“I would love for my ideas and inspiration to create change. Whether it is about applying sustainable approaches in our work or utilizing environmentally friendly packaging, I want the brand to continue to make a positive impact toward the community.

“I would like to expand globally and represent the Arab world in a global fashion space,” she added.


Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  

Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  
Updated 07 February 2023

Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  

Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  

DUBAI: Somali Canadian model Ubah Hassan took to Instagram on Tuesday morning to show off her head-turning gown from an event that took place in New York.  

The TV star, who is set to star in season 14 of “The Real Housewives of New York,” posted a video of her form-fitting lilac dress with cut out detailing around the chest that she wore to the 15 Percent Pledge gala. The gown featured voluminous sleeves that were attached to a cape with a long train.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by UBAH (@ubah)

Her dress was custom made by Harbison Studio, which was founded by New York-based designer Chales Elliot Harbison. 

“Warning to my future wedding guests: We are having rice and beans on my wedding as the entire wedding budget will go into dress and the diamonds,” Hassan joked in the second of two  Instagram posts. 

“Here is me and my team manifesting to be in a Disney princess movie,” she added, referencing her fairy-tale gown.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by UBAH (@ubah)

“THANK YOU for having us at @15percentpledge gala. You guys are doing amazing work supporting black business, black designers (sic),” she captioned her first post.  

The 15 Percent Pledge is an American non-profit organization that encourages retailers to pledge at least 15 percent of their shelf-space to Black-owned businesses. The foundation conducts audits, shares its database of Black-owned businesses, and offers business development strategies to participating companies. 

Dutch Moroccan Egyptian model Imaan Hammam was also in attendance. She wore a black gown with a long train by Italian brand Maximilian and had her hair tied in hip-grazing braids.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

“Thank you @aurorajames and the entire @15percentpledge team for such a well-curated event and for bringing everyone together for such a great cause,” she wrote on Instagram.  

The gala dinner was also attended by Ashley Graham, Lori Harvey, Ryan Destiny and more.  

To celebrate the achievements of Black entrepreneurs, the Fifteen Percent Pledge awarded three founders with grants. The first-place winner, beauty brand 54 Thrones, received the first-ever Achievement Award, a $200,000 grant presented by Shop with Google. The second runner-up, Sergio Hudson, received $35,000, and the third runner-up, Puzzles of Color, received $20,000.  

The winners all received a physical award created by designer Jameel Mohammed, founder and director of Khiry, the luxury brand best known for its afro-futurist jewelry. 


Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 

Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 
Updated 07 February 2023

Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 

Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 

ABU DHABI: Bollywood has come to the UAE as the Louvre Abu Dhabi unveiled its newest art exhibition, on the history of Indian cinema.  

Home to one of the world’s largest film industries, India reportedly releases more than 1,500 genre-varying movies in 20 languages per year.  

“Bollywood Superstars” features a wide selection of paintings, photographs, costumes, tapestries and photographic objects. (Supplied)

Running until June 4, “Bollywood Superstars” features a wide selection of paintings, photographs, costumes, tapestries and photographic objects. A significant number of the displayed items are on loan from the Musee du Quai Branly — Jacques Chirac in Paris, which specializes in indigenous art.  

Indian cinema was developed in the 20th century, but as the exhibition demonstrates, narration and moving images have been present long before the modern era. In a way, the nation’s vibrant visual culture, folk performing arts, shadow puppetry, ancient epics and mythologies — dating back to 2,000 years — led to the birth of Bollywood. Some of the displayed objects represent the celebration and revival of religious, cultural figures, and heroes.   

significant number of the displayed items are on loan from the Musee du Quai Branly — Jacques Chirac in Paris, which specializes in indigenous art. (Supplied)

In the early days, traveling story-tellers roamed around, narrating scenes of important epics. A showcased mid-20th century wooden altar, resembling a toy box, shows on its detailed panels painted characters and scenes from the battle-themed “Ramayana” epic. It almost looks like a contemporary film set, where movement, costume, and staging are in action. 

Other objects reveal deities, taking them out of their temples and closer to worshippers. There is a colorful wooden bioscope that projects with light images of a deity. “Like a music box, a hand crank slides images for viewers to see peering through small peepholes,” reads a label next to the device.  

India reportedly releases more than 1,500 genre-varying movies in 20 languages per year. (Supplied)

Movies arrived in India via the revolutionary French Lumiere brothers, who invented photographic equipment, in 1896. As the years advanced, filmmaking became a weapon against colonial rule, asserting identity. Modern pioneering directors, such as the late Dadasaheb Phalke (dubbed “the Father of Indian Cinema”), were inspired by their own literature and culture, manifesting in their creations.     

The exhibition ends with a presentation of popular Hindi cinema today, witnessing a boom from the 1970s onwards with luminaries Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, and Shah Rukh Khan on the rise. Whether in old or modern times, “Bollywood Superstars” is a reminder of a human need to tell stories. 


American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure

American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure
Updated 06 February 2023

American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure

American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure
  • The bank’s annual brochure lists suggested recreational, artistic, and cultural activities to enjoy during holidays
  • The brochure mentions that the museum of ancient Egyptian civilization will display the complete collection of the boy king Tutankhamun

CAIRO: JPMorgan Bank is directing its clients toward the Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure.

The publication is distributed to the organization’s distinguished clients around the world.

It lists suggested recreational, artistic, and cultural activities to enjoy during holidays, while highlighting the most important attractions and places around the world.

This year’s brochure includes many locations, and among them is a picture of the soon-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum, accompanied by some information about the attraction.

It says that the museum of ancient Egyptian civilization will display the complete collection of the boy king Tutankhamun.

Ahmed Issa, Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities, appreciated the bank’s gesture in recommending the museum to its clients.

The museum’s opening is eagerly awaited and it will be considered one of the most important establishments of its kind in the world.

The minister said that its opening date will be decided as soon as possible, adding that kings, presidents, and senior officials from around the world will attend its inauguration.

Soha Ali, CEO of JPMorgan Bank in Egypt and North Africa, held a meeting with Issa recently, and thanked the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities for its cooperation, and for providing information on the museum, as well as photographs.

JPMorgan Bank, the largest in the US and one of the biggest in the world, issues its booklet on an annual basis.


Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 
Updated 07 February 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 

DUBAI: Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo turned 38 on Feb. 5 and celebrated his birthday with family and close friends in an intimate gathering in Saudi Arabia. 

His longtime partner Georgina Rodriguez and oldest son Cristiano Jr. were also present for the celebrations.  

Among the attendees were his oldest friends Miguel Paixao and Jose Semedo. Ronaldo also invited Madrid-based reporter Edu Aguirre and wife Julia Salmean, along with his new personal manager and agent Ricky Regufe and personal wealth manager Miguel Marques.

Ronaldo took to Instagram to share a few snapshots from the day, captioning the post: “Thank you everyone for all the birthday messages. Grateful to have spent the day with my family and friends.” 

In the photos, the football superstar can be seen posing in front of a table laden with multiple birthday cakes. Another photo shared in the carousel of images shows Ronaldo taking advantage of the winter weather on what appears to be a trip to the desert, complete with a roaring bonfire and traditional tents.  

 

 

Rodriguez also took to social media to post a loving message for Ronaldo’s birthday. “Happy days to the love of my life. In love with you and what we are together,” wrote the Argentine model. 

After scoring his first goal for Al-Nassr last week, Ronaldo will be next seen in action on Thursday against Al-Wehda in a Saudi Pro League match.