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.’”

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  
Updated 26 November 2022

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  

Dutch Moroccan model Imaan Hammam stars in charitable zine  

DUBAI: Dutch Moroccan Egyptian model Imaan Hammam was photographed for a 36-page zine by Australian photographer Max Papendieck, with all proceeds from the sale of the self-published work going to the She’s The First (STF) organization.  

Hammam is an ambassador for the grassroots organization that helps empower young women through education around the world. 

She was photographed by New York-based Papendieck for an image-based zine that comes with a displayable plexiglass case. 


A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

Hammam first teamed up with STF in 2019, when she brought her Instagram followers along on a learning trip to visit young girls in The Gambia.  

“The girls and boys were getting ready for the talent show that was taking place that day. I was so excited to see what they were working on, from dancing to poetry to singing. My role for the day was to accompany them and offer any advice that I might have,” she later explained of the “life changing trip” on Instagram. 


A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

The 26-year-old model previously opened up about her involvement with the non-profit organization and how she hopes to champion young women in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar US. 

“Being a woman and having this type of career and this job, I just felt like at some point I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to help women like me, or girls like me, to tell them and show them that you’re able to dream big and be able to pursue any kind of dream you have,’ she said of her partnership with She’s the First.  

During the conversation, the model also revealed that her mother, who immigrated to the Netherlands aged 19, is a huge source of inspiration for her.  

“I just have so much respect for her and for her journey that she had,” she said. “My mom didn't always have it very easy, and I feel like I did. And that's why I think I'm so strong about helping women like my mom, or some girls like me that have always had a dream.” 

Hammam is one of the most in-demand models in the industry. She was scouted in Amsterdam’s Centraal Station before making her catwalk debut in 2013 by walking in Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture show. 

Since then, she has appeared on the runway for major fashion houses, such as Burberry, Fendi, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Moschino, Balenciaga and Carolina Herrera, to name a few. 

Hammam, who has been featured in leading fashion publications, such as Vogue and V Magazine, also starred in international campaigns for DKNY, Celine, Chanel, Versace, Givenchy, Giorgio Armani and many more. 

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’

Saudi icon Mohammed Abdu — ‘The Artist of the Arabs’
  • In our latest Arab Icons feature, we profile the Saudi singer, oud player and composer who remains one of Khaleeji music’s biggest draws 

DUBAI: With a career spanning 60 years, Saudi singer and oudist Mohammed Abdu, dubbed ‘The Artist of the Arabs,’ has been an inspiration to many — and not just for his music.  

Abdu was born in Asir province, Saudi Arabia, on June 12, 1949. His father, a fisherman, died when Abdu was just three years old, leaving behind his wife and five other children.  

Mohammed Abdu performing in Kuwait in 2001. (Supplied)

Unable to provide for her children, Abdu’s mother surrendered her children to Ribat Abu-Zinadah — a local Yemenite hospital for orphaned families. She then petitioned King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to find her children places at an orphanage, which he did. Abdu spent the remainder of his childhood in an orphanage in Jeddah. 

“This was really the actual struggle,” Abdu once said in an interview on Rotana’s “Ya Hala” show. “I remember every moment and every detail in my life. God gave me a memory that helps me remember things from when I was one. My struggles were of a child who wanted to be like the rest of the children in his neighborhood. They were all rich. I would see this and dream of reaching this level one day.”  

Saudi singer and oudist Mohammed Abdu, dubbed ‘The Artist of the Arabs,’ has been an inspiration to many. (Getty Images)

This was Abdu’s motive to work hard and build a name for himself. His got his first job when he was only seven, as an assistant to a mailman. He also raised money by helping housewives with their shopping and selling fruit and vegetables on the street.   

While he was interested in music as a kid, Abdu’s dream was to be involved with sailing or seamanship, like his father. He even joined a shipbuilding institute. But eventually, he abandoned the idea of becoming a sailor and turned to his true calling: music.  

Abdu began his music career in the 1960s when Saudi presenter Abbas Faiq Ghazzawi invited him to sing on the radio show “Baba Abbas.” Two songs in particular — “Al-Rasayel” and “Ab’ad” — became extremely popular. Both remain part of his live sets today. 

“Ab’ad” was a hit around the world, with Iranian and Indian translations both garnering airplay, and even European bands performing covers of the track.  

With his strong voice and distinctive style of oud playing — reminiscent of the Syrian-Egyptian virtuoso Farid Al-Atrash, Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi, and fellow Saudi Talal Maddah — Abdu toured the world. It was at a concert in Tunisia in the 1980s that he first received the soubriquet “The Artist of the Arabs,” from then-Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba. 

At the end of the Eighties, Abdu took an abrupt sabbatical from music after the death of his beloved mother. It would be eight years before he performed or released another track.  

Egyptian singer Carmen Soliman, who partnered with Abdu after winning the first season of “Arab Idol,” releasing the 2014 Khaleeji track “Akhbari.”  (Getty Omages)

Aside from being an acclaimed performer, Abdu is also a talented composer in his own right. He wrote several of his own tracks, including “Al Remsh Al Taweel,” “Ya Shoog” and “Ya Sherouq Al Shams,” but has also written for other stars, including the Egyptian singer Carmen Soliman, who partnered with Abdu after winning the first season of “Arab Idol,” releasing the 2014 Khaleeji track “Akhbari.”  

Soliman told Arab News that composer Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh was the driving force behind this perhaps unexpected partnership. “He wished for a collaboration like that to happen, and he worked a lot until he made it happen,” she said. “I would like to thank him for choosing me. I could not believe it at the time. I felt like I would have a song in my history that would never be forgotten. And everyone would know that this song was composed by Mohammed Abdu. 

“He was my favorite singer to listen to,” she continued. “To me, Mohammed Abdu is a legend (whose like we will not see again). I love his voice. He has an amazing, strong voice. Through it, he can reach the hearts of the audience. I love his music.”  

Soliman cited “Ma’ad Badri,” “Ala El-Bal” and “Shebeeh El-Reeh” as some of her favorite Abdu songs. “His performance in these songs is non-replicable,” she said.  

Soliman also praised Abdu’s humility, which she said is not common among artists these days. “That, and his humor,” she said. “You feel like you are sitting with someone from your family. He is very down-to-earth and close to the heart.”  

Soliman is not the only singer who hails Abdu as an icon. Saudi artist Hassan Eskandarani, who is also a researcher of Saudi songs, told Arab News: “Mohammed Abdu is an independent school. He sang to all categories. 

“I can’t give my opinion on an artist who has (such a long) career,” he added. “Mohammed Abdu lives through three generations from the beginning of the Sixties. He played a pivotal role in expanding Khaleeji music outside of the Kingdom. I hope he keeps singing until he decides to stop.” 

Eskandarani says Abdu is “a stage master,” who has had a major influence on his own live performances.  

“Not everyone who sings a song on stage is a (real) singer,” he said. “Mohammed knows how to choose (songs) the fans like, so they engage with him.” 

Mohammed Abdu signs his record-breaking deal with Rotana on Nov. 8, 2022. (Supplied)

Abdu remains a vital and relevant musician. Only this month, he reportedly broke the record for the biggest acquisition of an artist’s back catalog (which includes an astonishing 122 albums) in the Middle East when Rotana announced on Nov. 8 that it had bought the rights to his works.  

“Rotana signed the largest deal of its kind in the Middle East – the agreement to purchase the full artistic content of Arab artist Mohammed Abdu,” the label announced on Instagram.  

Chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority Turki Al-Sheikh said at the event: “It is a courageous move from Mohammed Abdu to give up (these precious) works that he worked hard on for 60 years. It is similar to someone giving away one of his children. 

“We at the General Entertainment Authority support the archiving of the artistic history of Saudi artists,” he added. “However, Mohamed Abdu remains ahead of the rest of the artists.”  

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup
Updated 25 November 2022

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup

Fans opt for Dubai’s relaxed atmosphere over Qatar during World Cup
  • Daily round trip to Qatar allows supporters to attend matches while enjoying city’s nightlife

LONDON: Dubai has enjoyed a huge boost in tourism as thousands of football fans have decided to base themselves in the UAE during the World Cup after being lured by the city’s relaxed atmosphere, the Financial Times has reported.

Supporters have reportedly preferred the vibrant UAE, making daily trips to Qatar on the shuttle flights that connect the countries during the tournament.

Fans from participating countries have opted for Dubai’s more relaxed vibes and lively nightlife over Doha’s more straitlaced atmosphere.

“If you cannot stay in Qatar, Dubai is the place you would most like to go as a foreign tourist,” said James Swanston, a Middle East and North Africa expert at Capital Economics.

“It is somewhere safe, somewhere more liberal in terms of Western norms. It is the most attractive destination.”

Concerns were raised in the weeks before the tournament about available hotel room space in Qatar, while a controversial 11th-hour U-turn to ban alcohol in and around the stadiums resulted in many fans looking for an alternative place to stay.

Dubai has been buzzing with supporters from all over the world in recent days, and they have added to the many tourists in the city in search of winter sun.

Passenger numbers have surpassed 6 million a month in the latest quarter, topping pre-pandemic levels, according to figures released by airport operators.

“Dubai has extremely strong demand at this time of year and I’m sure there will be people traveling through Dubai to the World Cup,” said Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Tourism. “This tournament will be a boost for the entire region.”

Although exact figures have yet to be disclosed, the Dubai Sports Council said the city was expecting an estimated additional 1 million visitors during the course of the tournament.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, previously described the city as “the major gateway” to the World Cup and predicted it would see more tourists than Qatar itself.

However, officials say the number of fans visiting the emirate with the sole purpose of catching games in Qatar is likely to be in the low tens of thousands, or the equivalent of a three percentage point increase in hotel occupancy.

Many match tickets have been sold to expatriates living in the city, which constitute up to 90 percent of Dubai’s 3.5 million population.

Although it is still too early to evaluate the impact of the World Cup across the region, the demand for hotel rooms has seen a massive surge compared to last year.

Many of the fans who chose Dubai as their base to travel to Qatar, or as the main hub to immerse themselves in the tournament atmosphere, have had the opportunity not only to enjoy the city’s lavish lifestyle, but to explore its world-class attractions.

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 
Updated 25 November 2022

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 

Hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future and more to join DJ Khaled at SOUNDSTORM 

DUBAI: Calling all fans of rap and hip-hop. Globally renowned hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe will join Grammy Award-winning American rapper, songwriter and record producer Future, along with Rick Ross and T.I., on the BIG BEAST stage at SOUNDSTORM, taking place in Banban, Riyadh, from Dec. 1-3. 

The legends will perform together with DJ Khaled as part of his “DJ Khaled & Friends” set on Dec. 2.   

Future, is an American rapper, singer, and songwriter. (Supplied)

MDLBEAST Chief Operating Officer and Head of Talent Bookings and Events Talal AlBahiti said: “We always aspire to cater for our audiences’ needs, and we are pleased to bring the biggest – ever programme of internationally acclaimed artists to SOUNDSTORM for a roller-coaster of thrilling memories and memorable moments.” 


A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

The lineup of performers also includes Bruno Mars, Post Malone, David Guetta, DJ Snake, Carl Cox, Marshmello, Solomun and Wizkid.


A post shared by MDLBEAST (@mdlbeast)


It also features Saudi women DJs including Biirdperson, DJ Cosmicat, Dorar, Kayan and Solskin alongside their peers Dish Dash, Vinylmode and regional star DJ Aseel. 

Last year’s event welcomed more than 730,000 attendees.

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris
Updated 25 November 2022

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris

Algerian artist Baya in the spotlight at new exhibition in Paris
  • The iconic painter and sculptor created ‘a joyful celebration of nature and life,’ curator says 

PARIS: The mysterious Fatma Haddad – known by her artist name Baya – rose to fame aged just 16. She was elevated to the rank of icon by a generation of post-war French intellectuals. More than 20 years after her death in 1998, she continues to be venerated by critics and collectors alike. 

A new exhibition at the Institut du monde Arabe in Paris, with works donated by Claude and France Lemand, presents a selection of her drawings, gouache paintings and sculptures in a comprehensive tribute to Baya’s career, which spanned more than five decades. Many of the masterpieces on display in “Baya: Women in Their Garden,” which runs until March 2023, come from archives left by the artist’s adoptive mother, Marguerite Caminat. 

Baya at an exhibition of Algerian artists in September 1998. (A.O. Mohand-min)

Caminat was the first and greatest supporter of Baya’s exceptional artistic talent, which was noted by Parisian gallery owner Aimé Maeght on a trip to Algiers. Maeght invited the 16-year-old to contribute to a major exhibition in Paris in November 1947, where her work dazzled art lovers in the French capital, including André Breton, who wrote: “I speak not like so many others to lament an end, but to promote a beginning. The beginning of an age of emancipation and harmony, in radical rupture … And, of this beginning, Baya is queen.” 

“Baya was a gifted artist and a hard worker,” Claude Lemand, one of the exhibition’s curators, told Arab News. “She affirmed her personality, her identity, her autonomy, her decision to (be an artist) at a very young age, but without ever offending others.”  

BAYA, 'Lady and Birds in Blue,' 1993. (Alberto Ricci-min)

In 1953, Baya married musician El Hadj Mahfoud Mahieddine and took a 10-year break to devote herself to her family in their home in Blida, Algeria. When she started producing art again, new perspectives were revealed, no doubt influenced by the Algerian War of Independence, which had taken place in the interim. 

It was a pivotal period for the artist. “From 1963, she developed new themes, starting with her landscapes — her Garden of Eden — a joyful celebration of nature and life … surrounded by sunny mountains and dunes, with four rivers, the symbolic trees of Algeria — the olive tree and the date palm, and full of birds and fish of all colors. The birds sing, the fish dance,” Lemand said. “Oasis or island, the Garden of Eden has the colors of Algeria: the blue of the Mediterranean, the red of its land, the green of its vegetation, the gold of its dunes.” 

Some critics highlighted the repetitive nature of Baya’s work, and in response, Lemand explained, she developed other themes, including her “living stills,” which often incorporated musical instruments, inspired by her husband’s profession.   

“All the elements of her (still life works) are represented as living beings, their eyes always wide open to others and to the world, with expressive attitudes of seduction and mutual affection, participating in general harmony, in a symphony of forms and colors,” Lemand added. 

From 1963 onwards, Baya developed a third theme: women: “Musicians, dancers, mothers, women alone in their garden or in groups, blooming and happy, standing or sitting, surrounded by musical instruments and birds with which they converse,” Lemand said. 

Visitors to the exhibition will see the power of Baya’s joyful, vibrant paintings alongside the elegance of her clay sculptures. 

“Baya favors turquoise blue, Indian pink, emerald and deep purple. She paints with unparalleled finesse the world of childhood and motherhood, expressing her fascination for the memory of her mother,” Lemand said. “She drew first in pencil, then she put the color. She started with the women and then moved on to other elements, leaving blanks in her early works, before giving in to the ‘horror of the void’ of the Arab-Muslim aesthetic and filling with motifs all the spaces left empty in her compositions.” 

In her paintings, there is harmony between women and all living beings: “Each has their own language, which is understood by all the actors on the scene,” Lemand observed. 

Far from the naive image that some have of her work, Baya appears here as an empress of a lush kingdom where young women could freely put their dreams down on paper. As Breton wrote, Baya was the “Queen of happy Arabia.”