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.”


‘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.


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!