BASEL DALLOUL | PRESERVING AND ARCHIVING HISTORY THROUGH ART

Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation
In a nod to the world’s hottest storytelling platform – Pecha Kucha or “show and tell” – Selections has asked a
number of artists and designers to talk about a specific project through imagery and an economy of words. The
result is a simple yet engaging and visually captivating tale that sheds light upon the work whilst providing
insights into the life and personal thoughts of each featured artist and designer. Passion and knowledge all
wrapped into one.
Basel Dalloul Portrait
Basel Dalloul Portrait

My name is Basel Dalloul, and I founded the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF) a few years ago to manage and promote my father and late mother’s vast collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. At over 4,000 pieces, it is the largest museum-quality collection of its kind on planet earth. It includes, but is not limited to, paintings, photography, sculpture, conceptual, video and mixed media art. While I caught the art bug early in life due to both my parents’ love and passion for the arts, my professional background has always been and remains in technology. I’ve founded and run several tech enterprises in the United States and the Arab region. I came back to the Arab World from the United States in 1999 to develop Internet infrastructure in Egypt. My company NOOR built one of the most advanced data and Internet networks anywhere on the planet in Egypt and then began using that as a hub to extend our reach to every part of the world. Today, NOOR is diversified into advanced managed data services, including data centre services, app development and advanced R&D in the field of data communications.

I’ve always been a geek with a passion for good design and art. This unique combination has shaped my interests as an adult.


 

Born and raised in New York City, and having lived in Europe and the Middle East region, I came back home to Lebanon about four years ago to sort out and build some structure around my father and mother’s vast collection of Arab art. I founded the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF, named after my parents) and went to work to inform and educate audiences all over our planet about Arab art, while preserving and archiving it, using my parents’ amazing collection.

While my professional background is in technology, specifically, information technology and data communications, I grew up in a home where art was always celebrated as an untainted witness and archive of our tumultuous history.

Shortly after the Tate Modern acquired Iraqi master artist Dia Azzawi’s massive Sabra and Shatila Massacre masterpiece, a 7.5×3-meter work on paper, it was apparent that paper available at the time the piece was made contained acid and as a result yellows with time. My father convinced his old friend Dia to allow him to weave the piece, known as the Guernica of the Arabs, much like Picasso allowed Nelson Rockefeller to weave the Guernica in order to preserve this important witness to history for the ages. The woven Guernica sits in front of the UN Security Council Chamber in New York.

Dia Al Azzawi (1939), Iraq. Sabra and Shatila Massacre, 2018. Warp: 100% natural cotton. Weft: 100% natural wool and silk, 3 x 7.5 m. Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation
Dia Al Azzawi (1939), Iraq. Sabra and Shatila Massacre, 2018. Warp: 100% natural cotton. Weft: 100% natural wool and silk, 3 x 7.5 m. Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation

Azzawi’s Guernica of the Arabs commemorates a dark time in Lebanon’s history, during its Civil War, in which about 3,600 men, women and children were killed over a period of 48 hours in September of 1982, at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. It was a true massacre by any account. Shortly after this massacre, Azzawi was so moved by the account of French journalist Jean Gene, that he felt compelled to archive this massacre in his unique style, which is unquestionably influenced by the great Picasso. Like Picasso, Azzawi also didn’t witness the massacre he so brilliantly depicted.

Dia al-Azzawi working on Sabra and Shatila Massacre in his Highgate studio, London (1983). Courtesy of the Artist Dia Al Azzawi
Dia al-Azzawi working on Sabra and Shatila Massacre in his Highgate studio, London (1983). Courtesy of the Artist Dia Al Azzawi
Picasso, Guernica, 1937. óleo sobre lienzo, 349,3 x 776,6 cm. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. ©Sucesión Pablo Picasso. VEGAP. 2017
Picasso, Guernica, 1937. óleo sobre lienzo, 349,3 x 776,6 cm. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. ©Sucesión Pablo Picasso. VEGAP. 2017

Over 30 people were involved in the weaving of the “Arab Guernica” at the Real Fabrica de Tapices, over four years, on 300-year-old looms using techniques and methods that have been perfected over this venerable institution’s centuries-long lifetime. Towards the end of 2018 the piece was completed and in July of 2019, the tapestry based on Azzawi’s masterpiece made its way to Lebanon and to its permanent home at the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©
Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

In my presentation I’m going to go over the process of the weaving of this seminal work so that it may be preserved and act as an archive of a history NOT to repeat.

After months of preparations the Real Fabrica de Tapices (RFT) called on my father to attend an initiation ceremony for the tapestry. It was and still is customary for the patron of a commissioned tapestry to weave a golden thread into the loom.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©
Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

The process of getting a precise facsimile of Azzawi’s original drawing onto the looms is painstaking. The original drawing is projected backwards on to the loom and then outlines are drawn on to the strings. The original image is then placed behind the weavers with mirrors in front of them reflecting (and inverting) the image in front of them. This gives them a clear view of what a person looking at the piece from the front would see.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©
Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

The wool and silk sourced for the tapestry were all sourced from Spain and at the insistence of my dad had to be of the best quality Spain has to offer. The dyes used on the piece are all natural and the dying process all took place at the Fabrica compound. When I asked the team member responsible for colour how many were used in the tapestry, she smiled, pulled out a book and said: “Only for the colour black. We have 200 shades of black.”.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©
Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

You see, Azzawi drew the piece with pencil, charcoal, crayons and felt tips. As he begins and completes a stroke, the colour changes as the tip of Azzawi’s instrument moves across the paper. This creates many shades of the same colour, depending on the weight of his hand. Replicating this on a loom can be quite challenging and requires a constant change of threads in those various shades.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©
Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

My father made several visits to Spain over the almost four years it took to complete the tapestry to oversee the progress and quality of the work he commissioned. My dad is very detail oriented when it comes to art, and there wasn’t a milestone in the progress of the tapestry that he didn’t attend.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

Almost four years after the work began, the four panels that made up Azzawi’s piece (two vertical panels on the left and right sides and two horizontal panels on top of one another in the middle) were complete, and the process of stitching them together began.

Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©
Credits to Nacho Pérez Ortiz© Real Fábrica de Tapices ©

Learning from past mistakes is often the best way to avoid repeating them, but one can not learn from what is not remembered.

My father put together an amazing collection of massacres, uprisings and battles significant to the history of the Arab World. From Mahmoud Obaidi’s Remains of a Ravaged City, depicting his hometown of Baghdad’s demise during both Gulf wars, to Faisal Laibi Sahi’s Uprising, depicting the Iraqi women’s uprising against British rule in 1920. There is Moustafa Haidar’s Qana Masacre, depicting the massacre that took place in the Lebanese southern village of Qana in 1996. Then there’s Bahr el Bakar by Syrian artist Nazir Nabaa, depicting the bombing of an Egyptian elementary school in the village of Bahr el Bakar on the Saini peninsula, and Abdel Hamid Baalbaki’s Massacre of Deir Yassin, depicting the Zionist Irgun massacring an entire village in Palestine in 1948, terrorising many other villages into abandoning their lands and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. The list goes on.

Nazir Nabaa (1938-2016), Syria. Bahr el Bakar, 1968. Oil on canvas, 125.5 x 125.5 cm. Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation
                               Nazir Nabaa (1938-2016), Syria. Bahr el Bakar, 1968. Oil on canvas, 125.5 x 125.5 cm.                                      Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation

The foundation, its team members and of course me, feel the weight of the responsibility we carry in archiving and preserving the art and the history it carries, as well as educating and informing the public of its existence.

We are very proud to be the home of all of these historical works, but especially Dia Azzawi’s Guernica of the Arabs.We are very proud to be the home of all of these historical works, but especially Dia Azzawi’s Guernica of the Arabs.

Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation
Courtesy of Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, SHOW & TELL #51 PAGES 54 – 57.

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