Beirut private museum to showcase treasure trove of Arab artworks

Many of the artworks are illustrative of the historical and cultural moments in each artist’s life. 
Sunday 04/02/2018
Enlightening art. A painting by  Moroccan artist Mohammed Kacimi.                                                                       (Dalloul Art Foundation)
Enlightening art. A painting by Moroccan artist Mohammed Kacimi. (Dalloul Art Foundation)

BEIRUT - Lebanese-Palestinian art patron Ramzi Dalloul has criss-crossed the Arab region over 40 years, accumulating a treasure trove of artworks that is one of the largest private collections of modern and contemporary Arab art. Dalloul hopes to share his collection in an art museum.

The Dalloul family collection is currently managed by Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF), which Ramzi’s son, Basel, established a year ago to organise and classify the collection of more than 4,000 artworks.

“Basel Dalloul wanted to achieve his father’s dream so he opened this foundation to do the inventory of the collection. The aim is to archive, document, preserve and authenticate each and every artwork purchased by Ramzi over the past four decades,” said DAF director Fadia Antar. “The creation of the foundation constituted the necessary (preliminary) step towards establishing the aspired museum of Arab art.”

The Dalloul collection probably rivals most other private collections in the region. It consists of paintings, photographs, sculptures and art installations by Arab artists such as Lebanon’s Paul Guiragossian, Nabil Nahas, Alfred Basbous and Ayman Baalbaki; Syrian artists Nazih Nabaa and Elias al-Zayyat; Palestinian artists Amer Shomali and Abdel Rahman Katanani; Iraq’s Faig Hassan and Mahmood Shubbar and Tunisia’s Mohamed Arejdal among others.

Artwork lines the walls of four apartment floors of 450 sq. metres each, which were converted into art galleries. There are sections for the different genres: Egyptian art, Iraqi art, Palestinian, Sudanese, Algerian, Lebanese and so forth.

“Here we are in the storage area somehow, not in a gallery. Many of the works are hung for the sake of not stacking them but we still have some stacked because we have no space. What we have hanged may constitute some 20% of the whole collection,” Antar explained.

“You would be surprised that there are lots of art from Arab countries that Lebanese viewers were not aware of and this is what makes this collection special. We have works by some 320 Arab artists coming from across the Arab world without exception. Almost, since only art from the Comoros Islands is not represented,” she said.

Besides being an art aficionado, Ramzi Dalloul’s passion for Arab art is closely linked to his sense of Arab belonging and nationalist principles. “Because he is an Arab nationalist, when he saw that the dream of having a unified Arab nation was hard to achieve, he thought that unity can be achieved through culture, where great affinity exists between different artists in various parts of the Arab nation. We share the same language and the artworks talk to each other from one Arab country to another,” Antar said.

Dalloul had said art should be used to enlighten and raise awareness about political and economic matters in addition to the rights of the citizen, Antar said. “In his quest for the artworks, he always looked for expressions of freedom, be it cultural, political or corporal. The paintings of his collection carried political and social statements. There is always a message behind.”

Many of the artworks are illustrative of the historical and cultural moments in each artist’s life. Shubbar’s series of twisted sign posts with bullet holes inscribed with name of places such as “Iraq Antiquities Museum” refer to the various wars in Iraq. Katanani depicts the harsh realities of Palestinian refugees living in camps in his multifaceted and creative works of art, created only from materials found at the camp. Sliman Mansour, another Palestinian artist, has his iconic painting of a peasant carrying the weight of Jerusalem on his back.

Antar said plans were under way for a Beirut Arab Art Museum to house the collection but no location or date for construction has been set.

“The museum will be designed to provide a platform for Arab art and not something for the glory of one collector. It would be for the glory of Beirut and for the artists themselves. We want other organisations or art foundations to be part of the museum. What you see here is a project that is not pretentious at all,” she said.

Once built, with a planned size of 10,000- to 15,000-sq.-metres, the museum will be Beirut’s largest art space. Along with exhibition areas to display the foundation’s substantial collection, the museum is also planning to have temporary exhibitions and create education, research and conservation programming on Arab art.

In the meantime, DAF has been lending artworks to museums, galleries and exhibitions, including Mathaf Qatar, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Madrid’s Reina Sofia and London’s Tate Modern.

It is also publishing digitised versions of its collections online and building a library on Arab art for art professionals and artists to conduct research.