Selections tours Beirut’s galleries in search of this season’s standout shows

Agial Art Gallery
March 31 to April 23

Lebanese artist Carla Salem spent seven years in Japan, earning herself a PhD from Tokyo University for her research into lacquered printing using handmade paper. In Twofold, she explored the possibility of developing a dialogue between Japanese and Arabic calligraphy through a series of fluid, striking compositions in which bold strokes of ink adorned delicate sheets of fine Japanese paper.

The influence of her university professor, prominent Arabic calligrapher Samir El Sayegh, is clearly visible in Salem’s work, in the flexibility and flow of her lines. But Salem has combined her knowledge of Arabic calligraphy and its rigid rules concerning proportions and angles with her knowledge of Japanese calligraphy, papermaking and the use of Maki-e, lacquer made using powdered metals.

Her unique blending of two cultures whose histories with visual art are inextricably tied to language and calligraphy results in a diverse selections of works. Delicate, ethereal and enhanced by the rich textures of the paper she creates, Salem’s abstract calligraphy works are a study in duality and the uniting of two languages and two cultures.

Home Bound
Galerie Janine Rubeiz
April 6 to April 26

London-based Lebanese artist Rasha Kahil has never been afraid to push boundaries in her work. From a large-format publication combining photographs of former lovers with descriptions of their physical and emotional interactions, to a series of nude self-portraits shot during stolen moments in other people’s houses without their knowledge, juxtaposing their private spaces with the privacy of her own body, she has chosen to strip herself and her subjects bare, both literally and metaphorically.

Interested in the ways in which the private body can be made to interact with public spaces, Kahil continued her explorations of the body and territories in Home Bound. The body is imbued with associations linked to its use in popular culture, art history and social constructs, she notes, and her interest lies in disrupting these notions. Her latest solo show juxtaposed bleak landscapes — deserts, bogs and scrubby mountainsides — with intimate portraits of women in the privacy of the home — unguarded, unselfconscious and seemingly unaware of the camera’s gaze. The two sets of photographs effectively raised questions relating to identity, belonging and the ubiquity of social masks.

Visitors in the Presence of Neutrality
Art on 56th
April 27 to May 23

Syrian artist Hasko Hasko’s enduring fascination with nature, animals and ancient Mesopotamian mythology is the focus on his latest solo exhibition. Each of the artist’s paintings contains a narrative for the viewer to unpick from among his tapestry-like compositions.

The paintings on show in Visitors in the Presence of Neutrality are autobiographical. The animals Hasko paints represent his animalistic side, while the houses and barns represent the refinements of society. His simple palette and rough brush stokes evoke the primitive beauty of ancient cave paintings but Hasko’s art brut style evinces the years he spent studying art at the University of Damascus.

The artist notes that since the conflict began in Syria local artists have begun to attract significant international attention for the first time. Hasko himself fled the war for Turkey in 2013, and then risked his life to travel by boat to Europe, eventually reaching Denmark, where he currently lives and works. He steers clear of capturing imagery connected with war and violence in his work, however, instead staying true to his long-term interests to create paintings with a timeless appeal.

After Images
Beirut Exhibition Center
March 1 to 22

It took Ziad Antar six years to put together the work on show in After Images. Inspired by Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi’s writings on the origins of the Bible, Antar began paying regular visits to the Saudi Arabian region of Asir back in 2010. In After Images, Antar explored the idea of myths as historical narrative, in a series of photos accompanied by poetic reconstructions, penned by Saudi writer Yahya Amqassim.

The series continues in the vein of the artist’s earlier work, questioning the nature of photography as a medium and mode of documentation. Each of the photographs on show in After Images was taken with a lens-less camera. The results were divided into two distinct groupings.

Towards the back of the exhibition hall, delicate, watercolour-like veils of colour made up compositions whose luminous effect was enhanced by the display format, hung on black walls in front of light boxes. In the entrance, a series of colour and black-and-white landscapes, some blurred, others sharp, capture arid, rocky scrubland and rocky outcrops that might have been taken in any number of places around the world. The sum of these parts was a complex and absorbing exhibition that neatly linked photography and mythology together.

Regimes of the Personal
Artspace Hamra
March 16 to April 2

Fabric is everywhere in Lebanese artist Ghada Zoughby’s latest series of paintings. In Regimes of the Personal, she used the wardrobe as a symbol of the meeting point between private and public life. Capturing the space where we store and organise our most private belongings, and select the face we want to present to the outside world, Zoughby explores the things we choose to keep and hints at the stories behind them.

Clothes form the backdrop to the works, but it is the more personal keepsakes camouflaged among them that reveal a glimpse into the personalities of their owners, the invisible subjects of these paintings.

A rack of striped shirts stands in front of a wall adorned with posters of scantily clad women. A folded heap of fabric sits in the base of a cupboard beside a stuffed toy too large to fit into the shelf at the top, where others are stuffed in a tangle of colour. Zoughby’s painstaking renderings of mundane scenes encourage us to cast a fresh eye over the trappings of our day-to-day lives and what they reveal about our inner selves.

The New Light
Mark Hachem Gallery
March 15 to 29

The master modernist Lebanese-Armenian painter Paul Guiragossian’s grandson Marc is just 20 years old, but in his first major solo show he displayed the seeds of raw talent. Working with a wild energy, using aggressive strokes and bright, almost lurid colours, Guiragossian is in many ways the antithesis of his grandfather, whose rich, subtle palette and measured strokes were central to his peaceful compositions.

The young artist’s impressionist paintings were bursting with competing lines and layers of paint that all but conceal the figures and animals hidden within them. A sense of spontaneity characterised his work, which betrays his belief that in order to hone his craft it is important to look backwards, studying the work of past masters, rather than seeking inspiration in the work of his young contemporaries.

The New Light was not a subtle exhibition, but Guiragossian’s work possesses a sense of energy and spontaneity that hold the gaze and excite the imagination. Grandfather and familial links aside, it will be interesting to see how Guiragossian continues to establish his own artistic identity and watch as his work develops.

Fairy Flowers
Opera Gallery
June 3 to 18

Spanish artist Lita Cabellut’s Fairy Flowers is an exercise in controlled chaos. In her upcoming solo show, the painter brings the magical realm of fairy tales to life through delicate, large-scale portraits of women surrounded by cacophonies of wild blossom. The artist’s first solo exhibition in Beirut is set to showcase both flower-themed installations and her luminous portraits, contrasting bright swatches of colour with inky black backdrops that evoke atmosphere of folk tales in which innocents wander vulnerable through threatening woods.

Born in Barcelona in 1961, Cabellut lived on the streets until the age of 13, when she was adopted by a prominent family who introduced her to the work of Dutch and Spanish masters at the Prado Museum. Inspired by their paintings, Cabellut spent four years studying classical painting in Spain before moving to Amsterdam to study at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Her enormous paintings are creating using a unique blend of traditional fresco and modern oil painting techniques.

In Fairy Flowers, Cabellut’s distinctive approach yields wild installations, bunches of desiccated flowers suspended in webs, as well as her striking portraits, in which her subjects’ flawlessly executed faces are surrounded by wild bursts of abstract colour.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Creative Issue #36, pages 34-37 .