Arab Art Fair 2019: Arab identity through a fractured lens

Although the art fair mostly features Arab talent, it included very few exceptions.
by Mohamad Shour and Maysaa Ajjan

13 July 2019 | 13:09

Source: by Annahar

Jean-Francois Debongnie standing next to his paintings. (Annahar).

BEIRUT: The political upheavals of the region are mirrored in the works of Arab artists who express their lost identity in a recurring and profound way.

This theme - the identity of art in the Arab world - was the dominating subject of the Arab Art Fair 2019, which was held at the Monroe Hotel. Hundreds of paintings and sculptures surrounded the attendees while live music serenaded them on Friday afternoon.

“The main idea behind this year’s fair was to have art that is affordable and within reach of the public, not art that is only accessible to the higher social class,” Farhat Farhat, founder of Educity and main organizer of the event, told Annahar. “seventy-five percent of the works of art available today range from $100 to $5000.”

Farhat added that, out of the 117 applications they received, 52 were selected for display.

“It was important to have artists from different nationalities, and to focus on artists who have their own style and technique so that they can show their individuality," he said.

Participating nationalities included Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians, Moroccans, and Saudi Arabians.

“One of my art pieces shows the soul screaming. A woman coming out of her shell,” Sylvana El Rayes, one of the participating artists, said.

“Syria had a lot of intellects before the war happened. After the war, almost everyone jut left.  The ones who stayed decided that ‘change’ and ‘intellectuality’ came in second after primary worries like survival,” added her husband Thaaer Al Suleiman. “Our art represents the loss of identity caused by the war.”

Another Syrian artist affected by war was visual artist Bashir Bashir, whose works have been exhibited in more than 12 countries between the Arab world and Europe.

"My work refer to the memory of places I lived in: the old house, the balconies, the crowded streets - basically all what preserves our [Syrian] culture, using arabesque and Arabic calligraphy,” Bashir said. “My paintings carry my message from the middle east to the world.”

Abir Baltagi, Lebanese artist who has had her work displayed in exhibitions in Saudi Arabia, was delighted to be among the selected artists.

"I have never had an exhibition in Lebanon, and I’m so excited to finally participate one,” she said. “My main theme is always the woman: as a daughter, as a mother, as a lover. I do figurative paintings and portrait paintings that express the woman in her most raw and vulnerable form.”

Other Lebanese artists include painter Carole Menassa and architect Joseph Rouhayem.

“This year my focus was on the psychological dimension of this wounded humanity. I’m linking the lost identity to the mother who cannot give her children the nationality,” Menassa told Annahar.

Rouhayem, on the other hand, found peace in iconography. “I don’t draw solely religious paintings, but I build off of sacred art to humanize topics.”

Although the art fair mostly features Arab talent, it included very few exceptions.

Jean-Francois Debongnie, a Belgian painter, was exhibiting at the fair after having received raving reviews and success. Debongnie has partaken in over 100 exhibitions throughout his lifetime including countless cities like Milan, London, New York and many more.

The event stretches out to the weekend with different talks by different celebrities like Lucien Bourjeily. 

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