Why Beirut plays a central role in this year’s Lyon Biennale

Why Beirut plays a central role in this year’s Lyon Biennale
View from ‘Beirut and the Golden Sixties’ at the Lyon Biennale. (L) Mona Saudi series, 1977-79. (R) Paul Guiragossian, ‘The Funeral of Abdel Nasser,’ 1970. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 October 2022

Why Beirut plays a central role in this year’s Lyon Biennale

Why Beirut plays a central role in this year’s Lyon Biennale
  • The Lebanese capital is key to the curators’ vision of a ‘Manifesto of Fragility’

DUBAI: When Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath began planning their curation of the Lyon Biennale, in March 2020, the world was just waking up to the dangers of COVID-19.

Naturally, the disruption and damage of the pandemic ended up having a major influence — not just logistically (it was delayed for a year), but thematically.

Bardaouil tells Arab News that the conversations he and Fellrath had with creatives all raised similar concerns. “We’re all so conscious of our fragility and our mortality, how vulnerable these structures we’ve built are — one virus and we’re building from scratch. So there was this sense of hopelessness. But, at the same time, people started to find ways of resisting.

A work by Aref El-Rayess on display in the ‘Beirut and the Golden Sixties’ section of the Lyon Biennale. (Supplied)

“We thought it would be important to talk about how this consciousness of weakness could be the basis for a new way of thinking about forms of resistance that allow us to use this fragility as a stepping-stone, instead of always pushing it to one side and always wanting more, stronger, better.” Hence the biennale’s theme: “Manifesto of Fragility.”

Bardaouil, who now lives in Berlin, is a native of Beirut, which, aside from the pandemic, also went through financial and political meltdown and the horrific port explosion of August 2020 — all of which he believes has left the city’s inhabitants at a lower ebb than ever before.

The curators wanted to find a way of “shedding light on that antagonism that has been going on for decades (in Beirut) — between moments of prosperity and well-being and a sense of self-confidence and achievement, and these lows where you feel you’re at a dead end.”

But they knew they couldn’t simply shoehorn Beirut into the Lyon Biennale. As it turned out, they had no need to. History provided.

A piece by Huguette Caland on show in the ‘Beirut and the Golden Sixties’ section of the Lyon Biennale. (Supplied)

As the pair began to research ideas, they discovered the two cities have been linked for hundreds of years, ever since Lyon was a major center for silk production and the area around Mount Lebanon became a vital source of raw silk for the local merchants. “In terms of size, it wasn’t the biggest,” Bardaouil explains. “But in terms of how much power they had to monopolize the market, it was very important.”

Wealthy families in Lyon began to acquire land in Lebanon, where they built factories for raw silk production. By the 1850s, it was a vital export and Lebanon’s farmers shifted away from food crops to plant mulberry trees.

But then came the First World War. “And then,” Bardaouil says, “there’s starvation. Because you can’t eat the leaves of mulberry trees. So lots of people are forced to leave — this huge wave of emigration from Lebanon in the First World War to North America and other parts of the world, but also even earlier, because of (Lyon’s) monopoly, the farmers were always in debt to the agents who were supplying their money. So people started emigrating in the 1870s and 80s, and women started going into the work force. A lot of things we see today — the social standing of Lebanese women; emigration; the rise of families who are still some of the most dominant in politics and society — all go back to the silk and Lyon.”

From the ‘Beirut and the Golden Sixties’ section of the Lyon Biennale. In the foreground, Simone Baltaxé Martayan, The workers, ca. 1950-59 - On the right three works by Georges Doche. (Supplied)

The ties deepened: Lyon’s silk merchants affected the selection of the first French High Commissioner in Lebanon, and supported the Jesuits who set up many of the country’s schools — not out of generosity, but to gain free child labor.

“It’s a very intriguing and ugly and beautiful history, all at the same time — a conflation of religion, politics, education and economy,” Bardaouil says.

The curators have highlighted that history with their customary flair. “We like to find entry points that bring a project into direct contact with its local context then branch out into something more universal,” Bardaouil explains. So the biennale is in three stages. The first focuses on an individual: Louise Brunet, a woman from Lyon who took part in a revolt in 1834 against the terrible working conditions of the silk weavers, got sent to prison, then emigrated to work in a silk factory in Mount Lebanon, where she led another revolt.

“For us she became this symbol of fragility and resistance,” says Bardaouil.  “We thought, ‘How many Louise Brunets are there in the world, throughout history?’ She could be a black woman brought from Senegal to pretend to be the wife of some Zulu leader at the colonial exhibition in 1894 in Lyon. She could be a Japanese immigrant in America sent to a concentration camp after Pearl Harbor. She became a metaphor, a symbol. In this section, we’re talking about the fragility of race, the fragility of our bodies, of our desires. All these things.”

View of ‘The many lives and deaths of Louise Brunet’ at the Lyon Biennale, showing works by Giulia Andreani, ‘The Betrothed’ and ‘The Dream of Ulysses.’ (Supplied)

From there, the show expands to look at an entire city as a symbol of fragility: Beirut. Specifically its ‘Golden Age,’ from the end of the French Mandate to the start of the Civil War, in five stages, covering artists’ representations of Place, Body (including the women’s liberation movement), Form (the various styles that artists in Lebanon adopted), Politics, and War.

For the show’s third section, “A World of Endless Promise,” Bardaouil and Fellrath invited artists from across the globe “to think with us about our fragility and different forms of resistance. How do we move forward using this fragility as a platform? How do we live in the world?”

Through the works on display in the show’s middle section, Bardaouil says, “We wanted to celebrate these artists and say, ‘Look, this city has given so much. It’s been a major contributor to the language and practice of modernism.’ But at the same time, it’s a bit of a cautionary tale. Because if it was such a golden age, then how come we had a civil war just a few years later, the repercussions of which are still with us today?”

The nostalgia surrounding this period of Lebanon’s history is something Bardaouil has been familiar with since childhood — when clichés like “The Arab Riviera” or “The Paris of the East” were common.

“As a child, of course, your eyes sparkle; it’s so exciting to hear,” he says. “I grew up in the thick of the civil war, so this was completely alien. But, still, you absorb it and it inspires you. And, at some point, people stop questioning whether it’s true. Because you want to hold on to this idea that if it happened before, it might happen again — it becomes a form of potential redemption.”

While Lebanon did become a revered cultural hotspot in the Fifties and Sixties — home to an influx of activists, artists, writers and intellectuals who had no platform in their own countries — this brought its own problems, Bardaouil points out.

Louis Boulanger, ca 1849, Moorish woman - on display in ‘The Many Lives and Deaths of Louise Brunet’
at the Lyon Biennale. (Supplied)

“It became a thriving place for all these ideas and projects and, at times, irreconcilable ideologies. And at some point, it became untenable,” he says. “There were people who were benefitting from this and there were people who weren’t. Some people felt empowered, some felt marginalized. And all these things escalated until it came to a head in 1975.”

Bardaouil talks of an “adoptive amnesia” that has afflicted his homeland. “This is one of the biggest issues we face in Lebanon,” he says. “It’s almost like a national myth. But once you start looking at it, you get a better understanding of why we are where we are. The problems of the moment are related to what happened back then.” The topics raised in the biennale can, he hopes, lead to “moments of crystallization.”

The attempt to open up such conversations can be seen as a form of activism, he argues, “because you’re trying to challenge people on what they’ve adopted as fact. And we can never find a common way forward if we’re all coming from completely different ways of thinking about our past.

“This is where this exhibition becomes about more than just beautiful artwork,” he continues. “It’s saying, ‘Wait! This is not as simplistic or linear as we think. It’s much more convoluted, and we need to disentangle it to find something we can all agree on.’”

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 
Updated 7 sec ago

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 
  • Archeologists uncover possible Omani bishop’s palace near Umm Al-Quwain’s recently discovered Christian monastery

DUBAI: Fresh findings by archeologists suggest the existence of a possible bishop’s palace — potentially Omani — near a recently discovered Christian monastery on the UAE’s Siniyah Island, off the coast of the state of Umm Al-Quwain.

A series of walls and rooms were uncovered last year that intrigued archeologists and historians involved in the excavation process on Siniyah Island, according to Tim Power, an archeology professor at UAE University.  

“This year, we came back to expand the trenches to try to understand what’s going on there,” said Power. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

“It seems that we really have an interesting building that might be interpreted as an abbot’s house or perhaps even a bishop’s palace,” he continued.  

The archeology professor explained that similar buildings had been found in the Arabian Gulf over the years, which has helped historians and archeologists create parallels.  

Power added that recently what is thought to be a bishop’s palace was uncovered in Bahrain that had similar characteristics to the structure discovered on Siniyah Island.  

The newly discovered structure on Siniyah Island believed to be a bishop's palace. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

“Historical sources, in particular the acts of the synods of the Nestorian church, mention a bishop of Oman between the fifth and seventh centuries,” said Power.  

Oman during that period included the region that later became the northern emirates of the UAE, so it is possible this was the actual palace of a bishop, he added.  

This year, the focus has shifted to excavating a different part of the island, with extensive work carried out on settlements and other structures surrounding the monastery.  

Findings on the island suggest the presence of both Christian and Muslim communities, who are believed to have coexisted during a period of time.  

They also shed light on the transition from late antiquity to early Islam, just before the Arab conquest.  

Power, who was invited by the Tourism and Archeology Department of Umm Al-Quwain to put together a “dream team of leading experts,” chose individuals who can contribute to the project.  

“The goal of this season will be to outline the context of the monastery so it’s not just an isolated structure in the middle of this sand pit,” said Michele Degli Esposti, a researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.  

(AN Photo/Maria Botros)

Esposti, who sat categorizing artifacts and materials found during the dig, explained why the site of the alleged bishop’s palace was different than other structures.  

“This area, contrary to what happens in the settlement, is quite poor in material remains,” he said.  

“One reason is that the core complex, which had a very nice plaster floor, was constantly kept swept and clean, so we found very little materials left behind.”  

A possible warehouse was found in the vicinity of the structure thought to be the bishop’s palace, containing further clues for archeologists to draw conclusions.  

“The bulk of the materials are made of pottery, quite remarkable quantities of glass as seen in the settlements, and a few stone vessels, which are quite interesting,” said Esposti. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

Radiocarbon dating used to assess the pottery excavated suggests that the community believed to have occupied the island was there between the seventh and eighth centuries.  

Esposti said similar methodologies will be used to determine the age of the objects recently found to further narrow down the window of the predicted time period.  

Findings will allow archeologists and researchers to better understand the pattern of occupation in the new site discovered on the island in order to draw relevant conclusions. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

The excavation process, which has a more multidisciplinary approach, involves experts and materials from around the world to aid archeologists on site. 

It is also the first time that TAD UAQ is hosting students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi to participate in the excavation process.  

Hoor Al-Mazrouei, an Emirati biology student at NYUAD, participated in the excavations taking place in the settlements where she helped find a pot potentially used for cooking.   

“While we were digging, we found that it doesn’t have a base, and that’s probably why it’s not used for storage but used for baking bread or used as a cooking base,” said Al-Mazrouei. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

NYUAD students were involved in the process from Jan. 4-20, alongside archeologists from TAD UAQ such as Ammar Al-Banna.  

Al-Banna, who predicts that the island will welcome visitors in the foreseeable future, said the first step is to uncover all findings to proceed.  

“By uncovering them, we hope to understand why they are here and what the relationship between all the structures and the sites next to them is,” he said. “Of course, with the finds, some will be studied, some will be exhibited.”  

Excavation work on the island will continue until March and will end before the Ramadan fast begins.  

Siniyah Island’s monastery is the second to be found in the UAE, with the first discovered in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island in the 1990s.

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 
Updated 27 January 2023

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 

DUBAI: Germany fashion label Hugo Boss has released a star-studded spring/summer 2023 campaign, featuring Arab celebrities. 


A post shared by BOSS (@boss)

The massive digital campaign features US Palestinian producer DJ Khaled, Dutch Palestinian model Gigi Hadid, Syrian Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen, Emirati host Anas Bukhash, Lebanese-Australian model and humanitarian Jessica Kahawaty and Iraqi para-athlete Zainab Al-Eqabi. 

In the new advert, each of the stars shared a photo collage featuring two images — one from their childhood and one present-day photo while wearing Boss sweatshirts or blazers from the new collection.

According to the brand, the new collection showcases a bold aesthetic, combining a city-inspired spirit with a summery, off-court lifestyle in the brand’s signature color palette of black, white and camel. 

The campaign aims “to inspire the world to live up to its full potential,” the brand’s statement said. “The journey to living life on one’s own terms, begins with finding one’s power, purpose, and perseverance. Despite its highs and lows, twists and turns, the journey is lived with confidence, style, and a forward-looking vision.” 

The campaigns stars celebrities, photographers, entrepreneurs, social advocates and more. Each of the stars will take to their own social media channels to share their inspiring stories.


A post shared by BOSS (@boss)

Lensed by Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson, the campaign also stars A-list celebrities, sports personalities and influencers including Demi Lovato, Pairs Hilton, Maluma, Bella Throne, Naomi Campbell, Lee Minho, Khaby Lame, Matteo Berrettini, Anne-Marie, BamBam, Stella Maxwell, Stefflon Don, Macaulay Culkin, Christina, Naomi Watanabe, NikkieTutorials, Cameron Dallas, Aaron Rose Philip, Gottmik, Ox Zung, Nic Kaufmann, Akam, Paola Locatelli, Juanpa Zurita, David Dobrik, Richarlison, Karl-Anthony Towns, Fernando Alonso, Xavi Simons, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, Suresh Raina, Anthony Santos and Zaire Wade.


A post shared by BOSS (@boss)

The stars all tagged their posts: “‘BOSSES AREN’T BORN, THEY’RE MADE’ @boss #beyourownboss.”

“Conviction, effort, and faith in the process. BOSSes aren’t born. They’re made,” the brand shared on its Instagram account. 

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’
Updated 27 January 2023

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’

DUBAI: Giant streaming service Netflix on Friday unveiled the first trailer of the second season of “Next in Fashion,” which Part-Palestinian catwalk star Gigi Hadid co-hosts alongside British TV personality Tan France. 

The new season will be released on March 3, Hadid said in her Instagram post. 

“So excited to join Tan France,” she wrote to her 77 million followers. “We had the most special and fun time with these designers and can’t wait for you to meet them!”



The first season of the fashion competition show, which premiered in January 2020, featured 18 designers who faced weekly design challenges to win a $250,000 prize and a chance to have their collection sold on Net-a-Porter.

This season will feature a group of up-and-coming talents who will compete to win $200,000, and “the chance to share their designs with the world,” the streaming service said. 

 “Hey, hey! Nobody booked you to model, dear,” France tells Hadid, who enters the room twirling as a catwalk star, in the trailer. “You’ve got an actual job to do.”



A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)


The short trailer shows separate scenes of Hadid speaking to the designers. “Are you guys ready?” she said in one clip, while in another she motivated the competitors saying: “Fashion should be fun.” 

In another scene, she was seen wearing her iconic red Versace skintight catsuit that consisted of a leather corset paired with pointed-toe knee-high boots and a voluminous, billowing red coat, which she wore to the Met Gala in 2022. 

“Tanny?” she says. “I’m gonna need some help getting down from here.” 



A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)


 Hadid first announced that she will take part in the new season in February 2022. 

“Netflix is casting designers now for season 2. I know there are many designers out there that deserve a platform like this. Second-guessing yourself? Please just go for it. This is your sign and your chance. Show us your creations,” she told her followers at the time, sharing a poster that featured her and France.

Filming for the show began in April 2022, according to the model. 

Hadid took to Instagram to share her excitement over the forthcoming episodes at the time and talk about her co-host, calling the British reality television star her “brother” and saying that shooting the new show together has been “a joy of my life.”

France also lauded his “Next in Fashion” co-host and dubbed her an “amazing mom.”

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay
Updated 27 January 2023

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay

DUBAI: March 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of US-led invasion of Iraq, which led to destruction, displacement, and prolonged political instability. One of the millions who witnessed the chaos unfold is the Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora. “There is nothing that I don’t remember,” she says from her atelier in Louisville, Kentucky. 

On the night before the bombing began, Sora, who is of Kurdish origin, drove with her family from Baghdad to the town of Balad Ruz, around 120 kilometers away. “It was so visceral and scary,” she tells Arab News. “We all lived in just one house there — 30 of us slept in one room. We watched the B-52’s bomb Baghdad.”

Vian Sora, Hanging Gardens, 2022. Oil and mixed media on canvas 70 x 55 in (177.8 x 139.7 cm). (Supplied)

Sora was born in Baghdad in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq, changing the course of political affairs in the Middle East. “Really, ever since I was a child, there was war and bombing,” she says.

Amid all the unrest, however, Sora discovered a passion for art. Her mother’s family owned a prominent auction business in Baghdad, where modernists like Faiq Hassan and Shakir Hassan Al-Said gathered, and Sora says she read as much as possible growing up about the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, in particular. “This was what (was) around,” she recalls. “I grew up in this kind of dreamy world that was parallel to the bombing.” 

Sora is of Kurdish origins. (Supplied)

In 2006, Sora left Iraq through the Kurdish/Turkish border, ending up in Istanbul. From there, she moved to the UK, the UAE and finally, the US, where she arrived in 2009. She hasn’t been back to Iraq since leaving, and says it was not an easy transition to life in the country that had invaded her own. 

“It was a culture shock. I felt like I always had to dumb down who I am to be accepted, but I also met some amazing people who supported me and my practice,” she says. “They were so hungry to learn more about us. I feel like I don’t just represent Iraq, I represent the whole region.” 


A post shared by Vian Sora (@viansora)

The experience of surviving “29 years of war” has definitely seeped into Sora’s expressive canvases, housed in private and public collections in Iraq, the US, France, and Turkey. “Iraq affects everything in my work; it’s my DNA,” she says. “Once you’ve lived through the first three decades of your life in a country like Iraq, witnessing four or five wars, that cannot leave you.” 

The self-taught artist tries to leave that which she has endured in the background, like “a dead grandmother who protects you,” she says. Her work is inspired by both her own life and by global issues such as climate change and cultural destruction. She quotes what the German artist Anselm Kiefer once said about the role of an artist: To observe and do the work. 


A post shared by Vian Sora (@viansora)

She describes her large paintings, inspired by Middle Eastern history and aesthetics, as a form of ‘gestural abstraction.’ They are full of rich colors, floating shapes, dreamlike landscapes, and curious figures. There are portrayals of chaos, explosions, life and death — and of the moment after death, reaching the sublime. Decay, and seeing the beauty in it, is Sora’s obsession. 

“It’s an equivalent of my own life,” she says. “I feel like, the older we get, the more refined we’re supposed to be. I feel the decay that has happened within me is equivalent to the physical decay I see in artworks and palaces. We persevere through certain things, or we fail. We might be destroyed in the process, and that’s what interests me.”    

The physical act of painting is a way of staying whole. “I come to the studio super-early in the morning, shut the world off and put on my music. I’m immersed in that moment. It’s the best feeling,” she says. It is also a way of dealing with her post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by escaping near-death experiences. 

“The only way to get it out of me somehow, or to work with this, is to continuously repeat that feeling,” she explains. “In the end, I don’t want the work to be about death or terribleness. It will be, somehow, but I also want to create elements of beauty.” 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 
Updated 26 January 2023

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

DUBAI: French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the 48th Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. 

Khoudri has been nominated for her role in filmmaker Cedric Jimenez's “Novembre,” which tells the story of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of Nov. 13, 2015. She plays Samia, a charitable young woman who volunteers at a homeless camp. Her flat mate is bankrolling her cousin, one of the terrorists. 


A post shared by lynakhoudri (@lynakhoudri)

The actress is no stranger to starring in films based on real-life incidents. In November 2022, she premiered “Nos Frangins” or “Our Brothers.” The movie tells the harrowing true story of French Algerian student Malik Oussekine who died in police custody in 1986 following several weeks of student protests against a university reform bill. Khoudri plays the role of his sister. 

Meanwhile, Louis Garrel’s “The Innocent” and Dominik Moll’s thriller “The Night of the 12th” are leading the race at the Cesar Awards, with 11 and 10 nods, respectively.