RASHA KAHIL, In Your Home, 2008-2011, c-print mounted on aluminum dibond, 60 × 90 cm. Courtesy the artist and The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space, Beirut.

JOANA HADJITHOMAS and KHALIL JOREIGE, 180 Seconds of Lasting Images, 2006, lambda photo print on paper, wood, Velcro strip, at the Beirut Art Center, 2011. Private collection. Courtesy Agop Kanledjian, Beirut.

PAOLA YACOUB, Cast of a bullet hole from a North/South wall situated on the Green Line, Beirut, 1995, wood paste. Photo by Fares Jammal. Courtesy the artist and Beirut Art Center.


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Renowned for its liberal education, cultural openness and freedom of expression, Lebanon is a key center in the regional art scene. Following the cessation—but not resolution—of its 15-year civil war in 1990, and in the absence of government support, the revival of the art scene was spearheaded by a small group of individuals. Once characterized by its instability and resourcefulness, the Beirut art community is now maturing and stabilizing, as a culture of philanthropy develops, and international interest grows.

Lebanon’s only art museum, the private Nicolas Sursock Museum holds an extensive collection of modern and Islamic art, but remains closed until 2012 due to construction on an underground extension.

Now in its third year, the Beirut Art Center (BAC) held simultaneous solo shows for Lebanese artist Paola Yacoub and German artist-filmmaker Harun Farocki (2/10–4/15). “Image in the Aftermath” (5/18–7/16) explored the complexities of image production in the wake of violence. “Be . . . longing” (7/29–10/1) was the most comprehensive solo exhibition to date in Beirut for acclaimed photographer Fouad Elkoury. The BAC concluded its year with “Exposure 2011” (12/1–1/21/12), the third edition of its annual emerging artists’ show.

In September, leading nonprofit Ashkal Alwan (AA), established in 1994, opened its new Home Workspace, which features a multipurpose hall, auditoriums, studio spaces and a multimedia library, in the industrial neighborhood of Jisr el-Wati, next door to the BAC. Fourteen emerging artists from the region and Europe are taking part in its inaugural Home Workspace Program led by resident artist-professor Emily Jacir. Among other programs, AA also presented the third edition of “Video Works” (5/18–21), showcasing recent productions by established figures and eight commissioned videos by emerging Lebanese artists.

The nonprofit Arab Image Foundation (AIF) is a organization dedicated to preserving the photographic heritage of the region and its diasporas. It opened its new headquarters in the Mar Mkhael area in November. The venue includes a research center with reference and video libraries, as well as spaces to host public events and a residency program. In November, AIF also held a conservation workshop (11/10–18) as part of the ongoing Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative. 

The Young Arab Theatre Fund, a Brussels-based nonprofit that supports emerging artists in the Arab world, launched the sixth cycle of its traveling arts festival Meeting Points, “Locus Agonistes: Practices and Logics of the Civic” (4/27–5/7) at the BAC. Curated by Nigerian-American Okwui Enwezor, the festival included an exhibition of 16 artists and an events program of 15 performances, readings and talks that dealt with issues of civic engagement and imagination.

Solidere, the local company behind the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, runs the Beirut Exhibition Center (BEC), which held the group show “Zendegi: Twelve Contemporary Iranian Artists” (4/14–5/30), organized by London-based Iranian gallerist Rose Issa. “Rebirth: Lebanon XXIst Century Contemporary Art” (6/16–7/31), curated by Lebanese collector Janine Maamari and art historian Marie Tomb was a multigenerational survey of Lebanon’s renewal. Pioneering modernist sculptor Saloua Raouda Choucair was given a retrospective (9/27–11/13), and “Art in Iraq Today” (11/23–12/18), co-curated by artist Dia al-Azzawi and Dubai gallerist Charles Pocock, shed light on the impact of exile on contemporary Iraqi creative production.

Not far from AIF in Mar Mkhael, the nonprofit 98 Weeks held the Beirut edition of the project “Platform Translation” (7/15–16), which centered on the book as an artistic medium, with Lebanese artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Hatem Imam and Jana Traboulsi, and 98 Weeks co-founders Marwa and Mirene Arsanios taking part. At the Hangar space, the BAC and Umam-D&R, a nonprofit that documents Lebanon’s recent past, co-hosted “The Beirut Experience” (10/13–11/19), with international artists attempting to comment on the city’s past and present.

Founded in 2009 as a platform for emerging Middle Eastern artists, the Running Horse presented “In the Trenches” (12/20/10–3/26), a group exhibition by emerging artists Rasha Kahil, Hiba Kalache and Alfred Tarazi exploring internal and external struggles, followed by a solo show for Kahil (6/20–7/30), and “Dial 911 for the New Middle East” (9/11–10/1) by activist group the Feel Collective, who explored the September 11 attacks destabilizing impact on the region. 

Lebanon’s premier gallery for cutting-edge contemporary art remains Hamburg- and Beirut-based Galerie Sfeir-Semler, which held concurrent solo shows for Egyptian multimedia artist Wael Shawky and Lebanese video artist Mounira al-Solh (11/25/10–3/19). Later in the year it mounted a major solo show, for Marwan Rechmaoui, “Landscapes” (11/25–3/24/12), featuring his new “UNRWA” canvases based on maps drawn by Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon. 

Agial Art Gallery was established in the Hamra neighborhood in 1990 to promote contemporary Arab art. The gallery presented self-portraitist Oussama Baalbaki (5/5–21), Beirut-born Palestinian artist Abdul Rahman Katanani (6/7–25) and figurative painter Tagreed Darghouth (10/27–11/19).

Galerie Kettaneh-Kunigk, an affiliate of Munich’s Galerie Tanit, held a solo exhibition for Syrian-American painter and sculptor Simone Fattal (3/2–4/20), and later featured photographer Randa Mirza’s images of construction projects (10/12–29), also presented outside the public park of Sanayeh.

Galerie Janine Rubeiz, whose late founder was the impetus behind the establishment of Lebanon’s first cultural center in 1967, organized solo shows for modern Lebanese pioneers such as Huguette Caland (1/12–2/12), as well as contemporary figures such as Dima Hajjar (7/6–8/19).

The second edition of the Menasart Fair (7/13–16), with 25 participating galleries, was held at the Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure Center.

In April, the first nonprofit based outside of Beirut, Batroun Projects (BP) opened in the northern Lebanon town of Batroun. BP organizes public events, exhibitions and screenings, and includes a library, artist’s residency and meeting spaces.

Lebanon had a significant presence on the international biennial circuit, with Rania Stephan, Rayyane Tabet and Jalal Toufic being awarded prizes at the Sharjah Biennial (3/16–5/16), as well as Akram Zaatari, Marwa Arsanios, George Awde, duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige and Charbel-Joseph H. Boutros participating in the Istanbul Biennial (9/17–11/13). Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh (in collaboration with AIF), Marwan Sahmarani, Mounira al-Solh and Zeina Maasri, as well as the 98 Weeks bazaar of artist publications, were included in the Thessaloniki Biennale (9/18–12/18). A collateral exhibition at the Venice Biennale, “The Future of a Promise” (6/2–11/20), incorporated work by Ziad Abillama, Ziad Antar and Ayman Baalbaki.

Elsewhere in Europe, Walid Raad was awarded the Hasselbald Prize in March and with it a show at the Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden (11/12–1/15/12), on the heels of a midcareer survey at the Kunsthalle Zürich (8/26–10/30). Playwright Rabih Mroué, jointly won the Bansemer & Nyssen Dramatiker Preis 2011, with Lina Saneh, and was also awarded a prestigious Prince Claus Award. Mroué further exhibited at Lunds Konsthall, Sweden (3/12–5/8) and INIVA, London (3/23–5/14). Akram Zaatari, who was awarded the grand prize at SESC_Videobrasil (9/30–1/29/12), presented at Kunstnernes Hus’s annual Oslo Contemporary Art Exhibition (11/4–1/22/12). Jalal Toufic was one of three artists in a show at Whitechapel Gallery, London (1/28–4/17). Mounira al-Solh exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (6/18–7/31), and Raed Yassin’s work was shown at London’s Delfina Foundation (1/11–2/16). The Kunsthalle Wien’s “Beirut” (6/29–8/24) included Lamia Joreige, Danielle Arbid and Maher Abi Samra.

In 2012, the BEC will showcase works by revered modern painter Chafic Abboud, as well as duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. The latter pair, along with artist-musician Raed Yassin, have also been selected as recipients of the 2012 Abraaj Capital Art Prize and will display their newly commissioned works at the Art Dubai fair in March. The BAC will host celebrated German painter Gerhard Richter. AA’s sixth edition of Home Works – A Forum on Cultural Practices, co-curated by Mirene and Marwa Arsanios of 98 Weeks and Tarek Abou el-Fetouh of the Young Arab Theatre Fund, is tentatively scheduled for November.