Beirut Art galleries stage shows featuring Lebanon’s uprising

An open-ended collective exhibition, titled “October 17, 2019,” opened at Galerie Janine Rubeiz featuring rebellious artwork of multidisciplinary artists.
Monday 23/12/2019
October 17 collective exhibition. (Galerie Janine Rubeiz)
October 17 collective exhibition. (Galerie Janine Rubeiz)

Art galleries in Beirut are contributing to the rebellious momentum in Lebanon by opening their spaces to artists illustrating the anti-government protests through paintings, photography, graffiti, cartoons, installations and sculpture.

An open-ended collective exhibition, titled “October 17, 2019,” opened at Galerie Janine Rubeiz featuring rebellious artwork of multidisciplinary artists who widely expressed themselves since the start of the Lebanese uprising.

The uprising placed previously silenced artists in the spotlight. Their work was given extra exposure through the renowned gallery. “The move is taken in solidarity with the exceptional historical movement and to salute the revolutionary momentum of the Lebanese youth,” said a statement by the gallery.

Gallery owner Nadine Bekdache said the exhibition was meant to be most inclusive of the artists inspired by the rebellion.

“I put out a call on Instagram and Facebook to all artists who are concerned with the rebellion and who have expressed themselves through art to contact me in order to organise the collective exhibition,” Bekdache said.

“I did not want the known artists only but mostly the young ones to give them exposure. Almost all who have submitted their works have been selected as I tried not to exclude anyone.”

The space was offered to about 50 artists, including teenagers and a girl with Down syndrome, to express themselves, Bekdache noted. The exhibition is subject to modifications and regular updates depending on development of events.

“It will be a continuous exhibition. We don’t know when it would end. It all depends on the revolt,” Bekdache said.

She stressed the importance of art in documenting historical moments, such as the uprising, which, she said, “would probably help change the face of the country.”

“We cannot but mark and record this phase of history. To highlight the action of these young people who rebelled and took to the streets in a spontaneous and personal move to decry all that is happening in the country, to say that they don’t want to be governed the way they have been governed until now, and to tell all the corrupt leaders that they should go home,” Bekdache said.

“How do you express all this and document it in the history of a nation?” she asked. “For me, it is through art. What remains after the end of the revolution is artistic work. It is neither the politicians nor the rulers, only artworks.”

Among the works displayed at the exhibition’s opening was a large painting by established artist Jamil Molaeb depicting the massive crowds gathered at Martyrs’ Square, the main protest hub in Beirut, and a barbed-wire installation in the form of a gown representing the role played by women in the uprising by artist Lianne Rabbat.

Painter Layla Jureidini highlighted the Martyrs' Monument and the “fist,” the gigantic dummy raised in the middle of Martyrs’ Square as a symbol of the uprising.

“Since the start of the protests, I saw that the ‘fist’ was already there and all these people gathering around it. I felt immediately that they were united in a single cluster expressing the same grievances. I thought that the ‘fist’ is the strongest symbol and representative of the Lebanese unity under the national flag,” Jureidini said.

“You have the impression that the people for once are moving hand in hand. Lebanon went through numerous conflicts but, for the first time, you feel that they are aware of their national belonging.”

The artwork depicting the Martyrs' Monument covered with Lebanese flags has the name of Alaa Abou Fakhr, the first protester killed during the demonstrations, inscribed on it.

“I had already done the painting when Abou Fakhr was killed. I felt as if this work was previewed for him,” Jureidini said. “Symbolically, he was the first martyr of the revolution. The incident was so shocking that I absolutely wanted to associate him with the statue, which is like a tombstone in tribute to him and all the people who sacrificed their lives for the nation.”

Photographer Manu Ferneini stressed the importance of representing these events in the artists’ alternative ways that fall outside the narrative imposed by the state.

“We are leaderless both politically and artistically,” Ferneini told An-Nahar newspaper.

Another major Beirut gallery, Art on 56th, also has a collective exhibition -- titled “Lebanon” -- which it said is dedicated to its home country.

“The group show aims to provide different artists with a platform to express their voice, each sharing their vision on the current events and hopes for the future of the country. Art is the first draft of history and, in this show, artists are immortalising this radical moment in time and paying tribute to the beautiful and resilient Lebanon,” Art on 56th said.