BEIRUT: To walk into Beit Amir in the heart of Clemenceau, Beirut, is to step into a different time zone. The spacious house is filled with artwork that looks as though it belongs to a different era.
The items of the art exhibition range from vintage leather pouches spread on marble tables or hanging from the walls, painted ceramic pots dispersed on a table in the middle of the hallway, to animal-shaped bowls made of recycled paper and handmade jewelry on a table in the far right corner.
The artwork of Beit Amir belongs to nine artists and artisans who work hard to keep the culture behind their art alive. From extracting pigments from spices to inking wood and stamping it on textiles, the techniques behind these works of art are very unique.
The colored scarves hanging from the walls are the work of French artist and textile designer Suyin Srouji who uses linen gauze, which has a rough texture, and linen voile, which has a smoother texture, to paint her patterns.
She prefers to use natural pigments, which she extracts from curcumin, tea, onion, and vegetables in an effort to be as “organic” as possible. She does, however, use textile ink and paint on occasion to get the colors she wants.
Srouji told Annahar: “It’s difficult to find something completely organic like that here in Lebanon but my intention is to try and find more natural colors and use less chemical paint,” Even though she is devoted to her art, she does give occasional textile workshops at the fashion design school at the Lebanese American University.
Meanwhile, the animal sculptures and bowls belong to Carol Burban, who mostly uses a very light substance called papier-mâché to mold and sculpt her designs. Papier-mâché is recycled paper made into a paste and molded into a certain shape, which is then left to dry in the sun the way cement is.
Every sculpture she makes has a purpose, whether it is to be a bowl for dried fruits or a cardholder or even a hand-shaped wall hanger.
The ceramic jewelry and pottery belong to Tania Nasr, who has been practicing this craft for 10 years. Nasr has a Ph.D. in Anthropology and has lived in China and then Singapore with her globe-trotting French husband.
She learned the craft of ceramic while in Singapore and opened her own studio after learning that her own degree was pretty much useless there. She makes ceramic dishes, bowls, vases and has her own line of porcelain jewelry (earings, rings, bracelets, pendants). Her collection is displayed in various galleries such as the Sursock Museum, the Dahab art gallery and Zawal, both of which are in Mar Mikhael.
Perhaps the oldest practice displayed is the woodblock printing, or the artisanal “impression” technique done by Zena Sabbagh, a French-Syrian artist. She uses inked mulberry wood that is sculpted into various shapes to “print” on certain fabrics such as soft cotton. She makes bed sheets, tablecloth, and even purses.
Sabbagh, who holds Bachelor’s in Sciences des Arts from the University of Sorbonne in France, told Annahar: “This technique is a very old one that is thousands of years old,” adding that “it is unknown where it started exactly, but it was once flourishing in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan and Turkey. People used to pass it down from one generation to another.”
She is one of the few artists who, for the past 30 years, have been trying to keep this tradition from dying out. She has cooperated with various NGOs like Caritas and Amel Association to train more than 80 women who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
One institution dedicated to keeping the art of impressions and block printing alive is Sandouk Alhakaya Painting (the treasure of stories), which has a few tablecloths spread on a separate table. Sandouk Alhakaya Painting is a union of Syrian artists located in Damascus and dedicated to printing various shapes on tablecloth, scarves, cushions, bags, and other objects. They were founded in 2017.
The copper and brass works belong to Kinana Maatouk, who owns the Keen Design Atelier. She mostly makes trays, candlesticks, traditional coffee pots, mirrors and napkin rings. Meanwhile, the leather wallets, pouches, clutches, bracelets and bags belong to Nawel Le Ressac, Lebanese founder of Le Ressac atelier. “I get inspired by my own taste and also by what I feel could be practical,” Le Ressac told Annahar, adding: “I would say that the hardest thing about my work is to find the finest quality leather.”
One final artist is Zein Ben Romdane, a Syrian housewife based in Dubai who has been working on keeping Tunisian art alive for more than a decade.
The exhibition is open until 11 May.
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