Aref El Rayess, Exhibition view, 2021. Courtesy of the Aref El Rayess Foundation and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut/Hamburg
View Gallery 16 Photos

Aref El Rayess (1928 – 2005)
Paintings, Sculptures, Collages, Drawings
Curated By Catherine David

The exhibition presents an overview of the artist’s work from his early works of 1948 up until 2005, and includes several series of works that have never been seen before.

Curator Catherine David on Aref El Rayess

A major player on the Lebanese cultural scene between the 1960s and 1980s, Aref El Rayess remains largely unknown, with a relative eclipse following his death. His absence from the international radars is partially due to the complexity of the man and his work, but is also linked to the very specific conditions in which he trained (between Lebanon, Senegal, France, Italy and the US) and visibility (and invisibility).

In its paradoxes and in its singularity, with flashing breakthroughs and dim impasses, the oeuvre of Aref El Rayess is an exemplary, uncompromising, modern journey. It is the result of the “inner requirement” of a worried subject, observant and mindful of the political, social and cultural crises of his time, rather than the “isms” and sequences expected of the modern canon.

Precocious and largely self-taught, extremely gifted, not very disciplined, amused observer, often caustic, he was fascinated during his adolescence by untimely yet vital impressions from Africa, which will follow him his whole life. His formal path, and his oeuvre, are declined in cycles, reiterations and reminiscences, and in various mediums which he will privilege in turn (drawing, engraving, painting, sculpture, collage). This original and contrasting journey echoes that of many modern artists who have worked on the outskirts of the self-proclaimed centers of Euro-American modern art, and in restrained conditions of exhibition and exposure.

In many ways, El Rayess’ work is that of a seismograph recording the thwarted desires and hopes of an era, through clearly heterogeneous formal inventions, testifying to an extremely free outlook on art and modern world: from sketches, landscapes and portraits of Senegal to allegories of rebellions and war, from abstract Flying Carpets to political collages, memories of his friend Kamal Joumblatt to text-drawings imbued with a ‘cosmic’ spirituality freed from any sectarian reference.

This first monographic presentation, produced in difficult circumstances, and at a time when the archive of the artist is still being organized and explored, without a scientific team and with entire sections of the his career still to be processed and analyzed (not to mention the research to be carried out in the different countries where he has stayed and worked) should be considered as the ‘stage zero’ of the exhibition, which will be presented in its expanded version in several museums in 2022-2023.

Here, the presentation follows a rough chronology, displaying several key moments of the artist’s work: the training years between Lebanon and Senegal; the abstract materialist works produced in Italy (some of which were presented at Galerie la Licorne in Beirut in 1963); the more ‘political’ paintings with the works inspired by the Algerian War of Independence, the liberation struggles of the ‘Third World’ but also of African-Americans, and the war in Lebanon (paintings and series of drawings from the publication Road to Peace); the Deserts painted during his stay in Saudi Arabia; and a set of Collages.

For reasons which relate to the limited space of the gallery but also to the current state of the works and the necessary restorations before presentation, some important series might be missing in this first presentation: justice is not done, among others, to the exceptional graphic talent of El Rayess nor to the evolution of his sculptural work.

On View at Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut

The info is extracted from the press release.



SELECTIONS is a platform for the arts, focusing on the Arab World.

Selections editorial presents a quarterly print magazine and weekly online publication with high quality content on all subjects related to Art and Culture. Full of world-leading artworks, exquisite brand imagery, original creative illustrations and insightful written articles.
Selections Viewing Rooms presents carefully curated online art shows aiming not only to shed light on contemporary art executed by living artists, but also for viewers to buy contemporary fine art, prints & multiples, photography, street art and collectibles.
Discover the previous and current shows here.
Cultural Narratives foundation is an extensive collection that is travelling the world by leading established and emerging talents aiming to reflect the culture of the region in their works.


Samia Halaby retrospective ‘Lasting Impressions’ Series at Sharjah Art Museum

Sharjah Art Museum is hosting the annual “Lasting Impressions” series, dedicated to the Palestinian-American artist Samia Halaby. This major retrospective exhibition, curated by Inass Yassin, showcases over 200 of Halaby’s diverse works spanning six decades, including abstract paintings, digital pieces,…

‘Sayfiye Aesthetic’ by Libaniz Niche at TakeOver Beirut

From the 28th of July and throughout August, Libaniz Niche has transformed the Takeover Beirut space with an interactive scenography, taking their unpublished Instagram posts to a whole new level. ‘Sayfiye Aesthetic’, Libaniz Niche’s 2D meme format, will capture the…

Menart Fair 2023

The 4th edition of the Menart Fair offered a unique and diverse experience. Over 31 galleries from 11 countries have converged in Paris to showcase Art and design from the Middle East and North Africa. The event displayed a blend…

‘Masterpieces of Furniture Design’ at M7 Doha

M7, in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, presents “Masterpieces of Furniture Design,” in Doha from September 8 to December 9, 2023. Curated by Dr Mateo Kries, Director of the Vitra Design Museum, this showcase delves into two…

Being Abdul Rahman Katanani: The Great Art of Adventure by Serwan Barren

Let me begin by saying that I have been following the works of the artist Abdul Rahman Katanani from the beginning. And while first and foremost he is my friend, I was also one of the first admirers of his…

We Design Beirut

We Design Beirut is an annual four-day design event scheduled to take place from October 27 to 30, 2023, right in the heart of Beirut. This multidisciplinary experience is dedicated to celebrating and promoting design and creativity. The program features…

september 2023

02apr(apr 2)09:0015sep(sep 15)09:00SELECTED WORKS - NABIL ANANI

03may(may 3)09:0026nov(nov 26)20:00LOBI LOBI - BOBO LAND - Comic Craze Vol. 3