The boutique hotel Arthaus opened Friday, after extensive repair work, with a group exhibition. The owners hope to raise money for the Lebanese Red Cross and participating artists.
Arthaus seeks to provide a space for artistic exhibition and conversation. Launched by Nabil and Zoe Debs in 2017, it was about ready to open when the Aug. 4 blast hit. The roofs and facades of the five heritage homes making up the Arthaus complex were wrecked.
After two months of restoration, the hotel assembled 54 artists for “Beirut Year Zero,” a show curated by the Arthaus owners, Marine Bougaran and Pascal Odille.
Over 80 artworks festoon the interior and exterior spaces. The works are for sale at the exhibition and later unsold works will be shipped to London for auction. (The auction house has yet to be confirmed)
Each sale will be split evenly between the artist and the Red Cross, assisting 10,000 vulnerable families affected by the explosion, and to the national free ambulance and blood transfusion services which saved many lives immediately after the blast.
“After the explosion we were thinking of how to help the community,” Nabil Debs told The Daily Star. “We are before all an artistic community. The hotel is based on artistic effort, between the galleries, artists themselves and the collectors. The space can be used [noncommercially] for debates, talks and exhibitions.
“So many artists wanted to come exhibit and offer something for the charities but we also thought we need international money for something like this,” he added. “A lot of artists were affected by the blast and we didn’t want to pressure them into creating new work, so some is new but some is older work they’re willing to sell -- including works by Ayman Baalbaki, Gilbert Hage and Alfred Basbous.”
The title, “Beirut Year Zero,” is borrowed from Rossellini's 1948 film, "Germany Year Zero,” a portrait of obliterated postwar Berlin as seen through the eyes of its citizens. Debs said that the social-realist movement of the time corresponds perfectly to the current reality in Beirut, mid-economic crisis, COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating explosion.
Many of the works on show have themes of rebirth, ruin and loss. A large installation by Alfred Tarazi, from his 2017 “Dear Madness” series, sitting at Arthaus’ entrance, shows a mess of metal forming derelict skyscrapers. Originally meant to echo Civil War destruction, the sculpture now looks much like the post-blast images of blown out buildings.
Also on show are familiar pieces, like a decorated bombshell from Katya Traboulsi’s “Perpetual Identities,” a scale model of Jad El Khoury’s “Burj al Hawa,” and paintings by Serwan Baran.
Others have created new work in response to the turmoil of the last two months, trying to deal with their despair through art. British artist and longtime Lebanese resident Tom Young has four new paintings here, depicting scenes of destruction and hope.
“I just want to express my own feeling but also offer something creative and positive to the community to are going through the same thing,” Young told The Daily Star. “This painting of [grain silo 12, titled ‘Monument’] is about how it kind of protected Downtown and Ras Beirut from even more destruction and has got this grandeur to this monument, like a temple or protective wall, but also a scene of great destruction and horror.
The opening night also featured many musical performances, included in a set of classical numbers by the Beirut Chants string quartet and a piano recital by renowned musician and surgeon Antoine Karam.
“On Aug. 4 our soul was stolen from us. As a doctor, we were overwhelmed and as a human being we were devastated,” Karam said ahead of his performance. “Art is one way of restoring the soul and connecting with people and trying to tell them that no matter what we’re not dead and will survive.
“My wife, an anesthesiologist, and I had just gotten home when we got the call and we rushed to the closest hospital and worked the whole night, catered to more patients than we ever thought we would, and the next three to four weeks were on a different level,” he added. “I started playing the piano when I was 2 and half and ... I hope this ... is a bit of a healing concert. I’m going to play pieces that connect with people and send the message that despite the rough times there is always something good that can grow.”
The program included pieces by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Abdel Rahman El Bacha and Nobuyuki Tsujii, who composed the piece for the 2011 tsunami disaster, which Karam felt had several parallels to Beirut’s own catastrophe.
“Beirut Year Zero” will be on show at Arthaus, Gemmayzeh, through Oct. 14
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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