As profusely introduced in this Selection’s curatorial section, championing advocate of culture and art collector Ramzi Dalloul takes the stage once again with one of his major artistic contribution to his own foundation (DAF), Arab countries and, let’s face it, the world at large.
Dalloul’s cunning predisposition to lead his circumferential Arab communities to an elevated state of awareness has not only made him amass the largest collection of Arab art in the world but allowed him to collaborate with renowned artist on projects, singularly made feasible by his patronage. He has commissioned numerous work that he thought would fall in the general stream of DAF’s overarching mission: educating the masses about their rights and culture.
The latest and most involved consignment entailed reproducing a monumental piece in ball point pen and pencil on paper, done by Iraqi born painter and sculptor Dia El-Azzawi, as a traditionally crafted tapestry. As it suggests in the title, the “Sabra and Shatila Massacre” depicts the massacre during which 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese men women and children were killed by fellow Lebanese extremists, over a three day period from September 16 to 18, 1982, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It was one of the darkest points of Lebanon’s civil war history. Drawing a parallel between the 1937 bombing of the Basque village in northern Spain at the request of the Spanish nationalists, the massive semi-abstract drawing illustrates the calamitous episode in the style akin to Picasso’s famous “Guernica” and has actually been coined the “Arab Guernica”.
Dia El-Azzawi based this piece on the accounts of the French Journalist Jean Genet (1910-1986) who found himself on the battle ground a day after the bloodshed. The Essay is entitled Quatre Heures à Chatila (Four Hours in Shatila) and was published in Revue d’études palestiniennes, in the winter of 1986. Soon after the Tate museum London acquired the artwork in 2012, conservation specialists noted its inevitable deterioration. The “Sabra and Shatila massacre” was corroding due to the undependable materials used to produce it and consequently was arranged to be exhibited as short as three months a year.
Al-Azzawi and Dalloul took a trip to the museum, to the dungeon-like acclimatised storage where the giant piece hibernated. Right there and then, Dalloul brought about the idea for the tapestry to which the artist enthusiastically agreed. The perfectionist in him wouldn’t settle for anything less than absolute fidelity which led him to set up a veritable contest in the trade. Four different weaving enterprises located in France, China, Spain and Scotland, historically in charge of tapestries decorating their respective thrones, took on the challenge. It took a month to reproduce the one square meter prototypes.
Only the “Fabrica” made the cut. A designated term for “factory” in Spanish. With 30 weavers on the loom and 4 years of tedious dissection, as well as unexpected financial hindrances, the massive masterpiece was completed. But before we get there, the process has something to say for itself. Dalloul first draws attention to the “alchemist” as he calls her, the lady in charge of chemically concocting the pigments. An amazing undertaking in favour of conserving the original’s utter magical impact. Discernibly 200 different shades of black needed to be compounded in mesh. “Who would have thought? Black is not only black, it is an infinite number of blacks.” Says Dalloul metaphorically. As for the red, the pigment is amazingly produced by pulverizing “scale insects”, also known as cochineal bugs. He adds that it’s “a kind of beetle we used to collect when we were young”.
Half way through the production, the municipality of Madrid’s private sector, who partially fund the organization known as “Fabrica”, found themselves in financial trouble. A twist of fate halted the production. And so, accompanied by one of the Harvard of Spain’s most sought out intellectuals Dr. Antonio Sama García, Dalloul met with the assistant minister of Culture to bring their attention to the gravity of this project and to remind them of the multi-generational importance of their weaving enterprise, how exactly precious it was for them to possess such a refined ancestral discipline.
Upon visiting the piece, the ministry’s representatives were converted to the cause and decided that it should be exhibited alongside the “Guernica” itself. This is how Dalloul’s breadth of vision contributed once again to the conservation of a tradition facing extinction. This “affected and effective” masterpiece has a bright and significant future in the museum Dalloul plans to build for his whole collection. To behold the “Sabra and Shatila massacre” tapestry is to stand in awe before the entire spectrum of man’s creative and destructive powers.