Ibrahim Sultani: Painting legacies on Lebanese money

Among the list of portraits that Sultani has completed on the Lebanese currency are names like Feirouz, George Khabbaz, Nadine Labaki and Adel Karam.
by Fatima Al Mahmoud

3 July 2018 | 13:06

Source: by Annahar

  • by Fatima Al Mahmoud
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 3 July 2018 | 13:06

This photo shows one of Ibrahim Sultani's painting of Sabah on a 5.000 L.L. (Photo Courtesy of Ibrahim Sultani)

BEIRUT: Wadih Al Safi, Sabah, and Melhem Baraket are all notable faces of the Lebanese culture, whose legacies have been revived by a young artist and his fascination in the Lebanese lira (L.L.). With a paint brush in hand and Andy Warhol’s quote in mind, Ibrahim Sultani launched a unique series of paintings titled “3am khalle l lira terja3 tehki.”

“3am khalle l lira terja3 tehki,” which translates into “letting the Lebanese pound speak again,” is an original concept created by Sultani and shared through his personal social media accounts. The outcome was a series of exquisite portraits of different Lebanese figures painted on Lebanese currency, including 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 L.L. bills.

Meet the Artist

One year away from graduation, Sultani is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at the Lebanese American University of Beirut. His true passion, however, has always been art. He discovered his talent at the age of four, when he managed to leave his art instructors stunned with what a pencil in his hands could do.

“When the teacher used to assign us something to draw, I’d easily do it and the teacher would be amazed,” stated Sultani. “I didn’t know that what I was doing was different from others,” he added.

Sultani then grew up drawing, painting and experimenting with different forms of art.

“I started with basic pencil drawings, and then I began experimenting with gouache, acrylic and then portraits that are more expressionistic,” he reminisced, “and finally to where I am now: drawing portraits on money.”

Sultani’s talent was not foreign to his family as his grandfather had also been an artist, but his concept of painting on currency was indeed new to himself, his family, and the world of art.

Painting on Money

“I’d asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions. Finally, one lady friend asked the right question, ‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money,” Andy Warhol once said. 

The infamous quote by Andy Warhol, American artist, director and producer, evoked a dual interpretation for Sultani and inspired him in more ways than one.

“You can either start painting money as in paint pictures of money,” explained Sultani, “Personally, I took it as painting on money.”

His choice of canvas stemmed from a peculiar interest of collecting old 1,000 L.L. bills that he had as a child. The collection was impressive as he had almost one hundred paper bills of the currency stacked.

“I wanted to put them to good use, this is how it all started,” he said.

Lebanese Faces

Among the list of portraits that Sultani has completed on the Lebanese currency are names like Feirouz, George Khabbaz, Nadine Labaki and Adel Karam.

“The only thing they all have in common is that they’re all notable Lebanese figures,” said Sultani.

His painting of Adel Karam among names like Wadih El Safi and Feirouz has raised some controversy.

“I’m not drawing people in order to compare them to each other,” clarified Sultani, “I’m not saying they’re at the same level.”

Upon deciding on faces to paint, Sultani prepares a list of notable Lebanese individuals. The names were categorized into music, acting, art and architecture, journalism, and sports. All of the individuals that he listed are Lebanese people that are simply known. The only criterion he follows is the general acknowledgement of these individuals as notable Lebanese faces, and it’s not related to how he personally feels about them.

Some of the names on his checklist include Marcel Khalifeh, Majida El Roumi, Abu Salim, Elie Saab, Gebran Tueini, and Fadi El Khatib.

Passion for Portraits

Sultani’s emphasis on painting recognizable faces is rooted in his passion for portraits. His interest in drawing human faces surfaced during his childhood and grew up along with him.

“It’s something that really fascinates me, and I think it’s by far the most challenging painting job,” Sultani told Annahar.

His main motive is for people to recognize the faces that he paints immediately, in a matter of a few seconds.

“If they take longer, I have failed,” expressed Sultani.

Sultani is a firm believer that “people like people,” as he had once been told.

“This is why I draw people,” he explained. “People like to see their idols, their friends, their family, or even themselves, painted.”

Credit Where It’s Due

Holding pride in his work, Sultani believes that he doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves. In an attempt to push his art, Sultani launched his own website but also uses his personal social media accounts to publish his work. Pieces from “3am khalle l lira terja3 tehki” series are displayed for sale on the website and interested buyers often contact him through Twitter or Instagram.

“It’s by far my most unique work and I think I’m doing something that hasn’t been done before,” expressed Sultani. “This could be my breakthrough,” he added hopefully.

Sultani’s flow of creativity and passion for portraits doesn’t end here.

“I have an idea of making a huge canvas made of 250 and 500 L.L coins and drawing a huge portrait on it,” he stated.

His love for art is transcending, as he hopes to become a full-time artist, to practice what he passionately loves. If that doesn’t work out, however, he looks forward to graduating as an architect while proceeding to create portraits on the side.

“I don’t believe you need a degree to become an artist,” said Sultani. “It’s just something that I love to do, my getaway.”

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