‘Art into the Night’: a show of night-time inspiration and torment

The “Art into the Night” exhibition features works by 18 contemporary Arab and foreign artists, including painting, sculpture and ceramics.
Sunday 05/08/2018
A drawing by Azza Abo Rebieh that is inspired by her time in prison in Damascus. (Galerie Alice Mogabgab)
Harsh experience. A drawing by Azza Abo Rebieh that is inspired by her time in prison in Damascus. (Galerie Alice Mogabgab)

BEIRUT - The night, which has been a major source of inspiration for poets and artists in the Orient since the “Thousand and One Nights” folk tales, is the theme of a main cultural event in Lebanon, including an art exhibition, film screening, music concerts and opera.

The “Art into the Night” exhibition features works by 18 contemporary Arab and foreign artists, including painting, sculpture, photography, graphic art, video, installations and ceramics, and forms part of the all-encompassing ‘1001 Nights, 1001 Works’ event curated by art gallery owner Alice Mogabgab.

“I am fascinated by the night and I have been collecting works linked to the night theme for many years because I believe that the night is a rich and colourful subject. The night is not only a moment in time but a place of solitude, tranquillity, heartache, dreaming, inspiration and creativity,” Mogabgab said about her choice of the theme.

“The night-time theme has fed the imagination of many artists over the centuries, notably since the eighth century in the Orient and increasingly in Western art in the centuries to follow. Out of the darkness emerges artwork glorifying the night,” she said.

The exhibition has been given an added dimension by its symbolic setting in Faqra Club’s La Boite, the iconic discotheque dating to the years of the civil war in Lebanon (1975-90).

“I was a regular frequenter of this nightspot. Lebanese people from all regions and walks of life gathered there to forget the violent fighting and to celebrate love, music and life itself. It closed after the war and is now reopening its doors to art and contemporary creative freedom,” Mogabgab said.

Lebanese artist Hanibal Srouji’s painting “Aurora” at the entrance of the exhibition introduces the night theme. “It represents the night that seems to be never ending in Lebanon,” Mogabgab said. “At the same time, it carries a message of hope through its mere title because it reflects the artist’s worry and his anxious waiting for the dawn that he fears might not arrive.”

The show continues through lounges leading to colourful night-time landscape paintings by French artist Gilles Marrey, which support Vincent van Gogh’s declaration that the night is more richly colourful than the day.

Syrian calligraphy artist Zina el-Idlibi’s work reflected the night theme in a passage of an Arab poem that says: “May the night carry your dreams beyond dawn.”

“The night is an eminent theme in Arab poetry,” Mogabgab said. “The Orient has been charmed and enchanted by the night for a long time. The night has inspired Scheherazade who had to create a new story every night to survive.”

While for many artists the night is a soothing and friendly companion, for Syrian graphic artist Azza Abo Rebieh, who spent months in a prison in Damascus, night-time was an endless dark tunnel and moments of torture reflected in 12 artworks adorning two large black walls.

“I was detained at the security intelligence prison, which is like a dark hole. Once you enter it nobody knows anything about you. It is an obscure place. It had the mystery and obscurity of the night,” Abo Rebieh said.

“The night was a time of torment. The questioning was taking place at night and I could not sleep. I just wanted the night to end hoping that the day would bring the order for my release.”

Abo Rebieh’s black-and-white drawings reflect the harsh experience she has been through. “At one point I was contemplating suicide and then I said to myself: ‘No, I have a duty to tell my story,’” she said.

One piece depicts “The Missing”; these are people with no features, their faces are vague but what is obvious are the stripes of their clothes showing that they are in prison but nobody knows anything about them and may never know.

La Boite’s vestibule, which was transformed into a gallery of stars, leads to the dance floor lit by the glittering “Discoworld” of Belgian artist Samuel Coisne, where the imposing night tree of Italian sculptor Luciano Zanoni takes centre stage.

“The tree is called the ‘One Thousand and One Tree.’ It was chiselled in wrought iron and is the second biggest tree executed by Zanoni during his long career. The other one is sitting in the private collection of Bill Gates in Seattle,” Mogabgab said.

A black half-open curtain designates the entrance to the billiard room, where visitors are swept by constellations and starry heavens.

Lebanese photographer Nancy Debs Hadad’s images “Constellations” are inspired by computer motherboards. “When you look at the photos you would think they are photos of the space at night whereas in fact they are photos of the details that exist on the motherboard of computers. Tiny details that one would not notice with the naked eye,” Hadad said.

The show at La Boite, Faqra Club, runs through August 26.