Lebanese sculptor Bassam Kyrillos opened Artspace Hamra with a thought-provoking series on human strength and frailty

Artspace Hamra, a new addition to Beirut’s burgeoning gallery scene, celebrated its opening with a show by Lebanese sculpture Bassam Kyrillos on May 15th, showcasing a diverse selection of pieces in brass, aluminium and mixed media. Locating Existence contained 16 sculptures, all exploring destruction and rebirth in the form of war-damaged buildings. Kyrillos’ skeletal sculptures ranged in size from 40cm high to two metres, the larger works towering over the viewer like harbingers of doom.

Bassam Kyrillos, 40 × 30 × 30cm, bronze, 2015, Artspace Hamra

Bassam Kyrillos, 40 × 30 × 30 cm, bronze, 2015, Artspace Hamra

Kyrillos, who teaches sculpture at the Lebanese University and has a PhD in art from the Sorbonne, said that the work has its roots in his childhood experiences. “The initial idea for this work came from Beirut,” he explained, “because I’m living here and I spent my life here during the Civil War. But to be honest, during the war it was like I didn’t want to accept the idea of destruction. I only wanted to think about peace, about the end of the war. Now I feel it more, when I see the war around me in the Middle East. It’s like I feel it’s preparing to come here. So for me the Lebanese Civil War was the beginning of the idea, but the execution of the idea was because of the wars happening around us in the Arab world.”

Bassam Kyrillos, 2710197117042015, 67x53x25cm, Bronze, 2015, Artspace Hamra

Bassam Kyrillos, 2710197117042015, 67x53x25cm, Bronze, 2015, Artspace Hamra

For Kyrillos, the buildings are metaphors for human frailty and resilience, the remarkable ability to live in fear yet cling on to hope for a better future. “For me, the question of existence is related to where people spend their lives,” he explained. “For me, when buildings are in danger, it means human existence is in danger… In my sculptures you have the horizontal line and the vertical line, which together signifies construction. Even if it’s destroyed in many places, the building is still standing vertically, and this means it still resists.”

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Playtime Issue #31, on page 33