The on-going Syrian civil war seems to have spilt into Lebanon recently with confirmed tragedies of Lebanese civilians in Tripoli. The two nations share a bloody, tragic history with Lebanon used as the battleground between Israel and Syria during the 1980s. Yet despite conflict being the recurring theme that links these two countries the jingoists seemingly cannot defeat the force of the cultured and the determination of the creatives.
In his book, Pity The Nation: Lebanon At War, journalist Robert Fisk quoted Auschwitz survivor Stetkiewicz Wojciech thus: ‘I think that tree roots cannot grow in ash.’ However, it seems beauty can indeed grow from the rubble of a razed area as Beirut has borne witness to. Lebanon’s capital city has been the recipient of an influx of Syrian art, music and literature in recent months. It is believed that the Syrian first lady is a lover of international art but the latest imposed EU sanctions has banned the importation of any. Now, with the country at war with itself, the nation’s own artists are fleeing across the border to their neighbours.
Thaer Maarouf – 2012 – Euthan-asia – 120×180 – Mixed media on canvas – Courtesy of the artist
Guilain Safadi – 2012 – Heven Nightmares – 150×200 – acrylic on canvas – Courtesy of the artist
‘The revolution didn’t stop the Syrian art movement,’ Rabee Kiwan – a painter who fled Syria for Beirut in September – explained to The Economist. ‘On the contrary it made it more active, but inside Syria there are no more galleries and exhibitions.’ So popular is the Syrian art scene in Beirut now new exhibitions are constantly opening up to home the emerging talent. Some galleries in Beirut are dominated by Syrian art. Take Artlab for instance who are showcasing the works of 15 Syrian artists and just one Lebanese.
Houssam Ballan – 2010 – War Kids – 140×140 Oil on canvas
Bars and concert halls are filled with the sounds of Syrian music too despite venues being hit with fines because of a particular law. Collaborations are on the rise in order to side step the law that requires foreign musicians to have a special artist visa. Indeed, thanks to Lebanon’s multicultural acceptance their national orchestra is currently made up of 60% foreign talent.
At the Beirut International Arab Book Fair this year three novels were launched by Syrian authors, each of whom wrote about subject matter that is often prohibited in Islamic Arab literature; themes included love, sex, politics and philosophy.
We can only hope that the war does not spill further into Lebanon as Beirut is offering a gateway to Syria’s creative minds who are offering the world a valuable insight into the beautiful heart of their country. War may continue to poison their country for now, but born is the fruit of their labour.
Words by James Massoud
Mohammad Abbas- 2011 – Stripped Featherless – 90×120 – Courtesy of ARTLAB
Mohammad Abbas – 2011 – Presidential Family Portrait – 110×130 – Oil on canvas – Courtesy of ARTLAB