Beirut’s artistic agenda is full of exciting events this winter, beginning with Anachar Basbous’ untitled solo exhibit at the Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut’s Clemenceau neighbourhood. Anyone familiar with Lebanese art knows the name Basbous, a name synonymous with surrealist, undulating sculptures and sculptural architecture. The artist’s father, renowned sculptor Michel Basbous, engineered and oversaw the transformation of his hometown of Rachana, in the mountains of Northern Lebanon, from a sleepy village into a surrealist outdoor museum, with dozens of large-scale sculptures and houses designed by world-famous sculptors and artists.
Anachar Basbous upheld his family’s artistic legacy with prestigious commissions of his own, including the in situ monument in Downtown Beirut to commemorate former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s assassination, as well as work presented at the Beiteddine Palace.
His latest exhibit, running until December 29, 2018, is unexpected in its scale and shapes: only a few pieces in the collection reach a meter in height. Contrary to the archetypal Basbous style, all flowing, feminine undulation, these pieces give off a masculine, martial energy. The pieces comprise stone, steel and concrete geometrical shapes, broken and sliced, then rearranged in sometimes jarring patterns that evoke the chaos and ennui that so inspired artists of the mid 20th century.
However, perhaps anticipating this critical reaction, a press release insists that “this shift does not constitute a rupture with his older work.” Regardless, this collection represents a bold new direction for Anachar the individual, and Basbous the legacy.
Over in Mar Mikhael, at the Galerie Tanit, Chafa Ghaddar is showing new works in an exhibition titled The Visit, which runs until January 12, 2019. From across the gallery, many of her works look like light-complexioned flesh. Take a step forward, mottling becomes visible, indicating a patch of hair or a varicose vein. Take another step and a deeper, heavily pigmented line appears: a folded limb or a hunched torso. Or a fresh wound.
But come closer to the paintings, right up to them, and it’s clear that they’re not actually representative of flesh, or any recognizable body part. Ghaddar’s mastery of the ancient technique of fresco, first used in ancient Egypt and Syria in the 18th century BCE, means that her paintings seem to glow from within, just like a living, breathing human animal.
It’s a disconcerting feeling, to see something so evocative of the human body exist within a frame. But Ghaddar is comfortable with this discomfort. Indeed her practice “pulses with desire to fix what flees… The liminal is [her] heartland.”
In some pieces in The Visit, the skin itself becomes the boundary she pushes: what look like pinpricks surrounded by deep red are reminiscent of fresh, sloppy tattooing. A large, blood-red mural invites the viewer to imagine what’s beyond the barrier of the skin.
The not-skin frescoes are the most intriguing example of Ghaddar’s fixation on liminality. Another example, delightfully nonsensical if a little on-the-nose, is a swathe of blue paint seemingly pouring from the blue sky of a gallery window, onto the floor and the wall beyond, as a shadow would. Standing on the piece is disorienting yet compelling, aptly representing the exhibition as a whole.