Art in Motion – Making art accessible to all
Beirut - “In Lebanon we have lots of galleries and art fairs but they cater for a certain category of people who understand and know about art. We wanted to make art accessible to all,” said Rania Halawi, co-founder of Art in Motion, summing up the idea behind the creation of the non-governmental organisation (NGO).
“By placing sculptors and installations in public spaces we would be making a double achievement: Reviving public places in Lebanon and exposing the public to art within their natural surroundings.”
Working under the theme of Resistance and Persistence, Art in Motion’s inaugural exhibition features 24 Arab and international artists displaying their works in René Moawad Garden, Sanayeh, one of Beirut’s few public parks.
The choice of the place was carefully scrutinised, Halawi said.
“We wanted a space in Beirut, because it is the capital, and Sanayeh was the ideal location because the garden was originally built as an annex to the school of art and sculpture under the Ottomans and it had witnessed a lot during the Lebanese wars when displaced people made Sanayeh their home,” she said.
“Every tree in Sanayeh has millions of stories to tell us about the resistance of the Lebanese people and their determination to survive. It is a way of showing the whole world that we are still looking at beauty despite everything, the (unstable) political situation and wars.”
Artists from France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Kazakhstan came together for the event. Some produced their work on the spot watched by curious garden visitors.
“The European artists were asked to produce their artwork here in the garden because we wanted them to have this interaction with the public,” Halawi said. “We wanted the public who is at Sanayeh every day to start seeing how from nothing one can create a piece of art.”
The Dome, a structure of wood and newspapers by France’s Atelier Yok Yok, was a centre of attention as the group’s three architects and one artist put up the installation near the garden’s entrance.
“Many people were watching us. Children were curious and asking questions about what we were doing,” said architect Luc Pinsard. We wanted to have such exchange with them and make them watch and appreciate our work.”
More than 3,000 copies of newspapers were used to build the tilted dome, which is open on one side with a view on the garden’s pond and fountain. “It is a simple structure that is offset in space. It is mainly made of newspapers, which is not a resistant material but when we put layers of non-resistant material we obtain something resistant,” Pinsard said.
Syrian sculptor Mustafa Ali’s 4-metre statue of chrome and shell shrapnel representing a floating person was largely inspired by the conflict in his country.
“The material I used (chrome) is very strong and resistant, in line with the exhibition’s theme,” he said. “The artwork represents a figure that is discharging with the force of a rocket. It is a person that aspires to get out of the crisis in which we are living, holding on hope though he is floating in the air but still trying not to fall in the abyss.”
Ali was keen on participating in the Art in Motion exhibition, which he said encourages an important trend in the region.
“In the West, you see public spaces decorated with pieces of art, which is not the case in our region. We have little art education,” Ali said. “In schools, art is treated as a secondary subject. In Europe, for instance, it is regarded as the best means of expression and enrichment for children to keep them away from radicalism, intolerance and negative influences that could lead to bad consequences as it did here in our region.”
Ninti, by Lebanese artist Nancy Debs Haddad, is another artwork depicting resistance and resilience. “It is the name of a Sumerian deity, the goddess of life, who I tried to personify with these two huge pieces. She gives life; she is a saviour who we badly need at present (in this region). The open arms of the installation embrace someone who is completely bruised and mutilated and try to save him,” Haddad said.
“It represents the spirit of the Lebanese who despite war and violence continue to survive, advance and live again.”
The exhibition, which runs through October 24th, includes art performances and workshops targeting schools and university art students.
Art in Motion is the outcome of a passion shared by three Lebanese women and art lovers — Halawi, Rania Tabbara and Rayya Farhat — who said they hope to have similar additional events across Lebanon.
“We felt the lack of public art and the lack of education within the public about art. So we wanted to make art available to all,” Halawi said.