Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art

Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility

Interview with Sam Bardouil

Sam Bardaouil: Beirut and The Golden Sixties is an exhibition that is built on two lines. On one hand, it is a celebration and acknowledgement for all the important artists that made Beirut that special place that we all know and think about. At the same time, it is a cautionary tale. If Beirut was indeed such a great place and we had that golden age, then how come there was a civil war that occurred in 1975 which had repercussions that are very much still felt with us to this day. So, these two lines compete, converge and diverge in this exhibition leading us all the way to 1975 and the aftermath of the war which unfortunately has its repercussions evident in the blast of 2020.

Rima Nasser: What do you expect to take from this exhibition in Doha?

SB:      Personally, I think that bringing this show to Doha is important because you’re placing the exhibition along with the artists and works within a collection in an institution that is trying to push the discourse and open up the narrative about the history of modernity in the region. For instance, there are works in this exhibition that we pulled out from the collection in dialogue with the works that we have from very important lenders such as the Dalloul Foundation, Barjeel Foundation and many others. To see these works side by side in a context of a place that is about advancing the discourse on the contributions of this part of the world to the language and practice of modernity and art in particular is very important. I hope this will be one of the steppingstones in the history of this institution in the work that they do.

RN:     Where is this exhibition going next?

SB:      This is the last stop. This exhibition was conceived for the Lyon Biennial in the first place and it opened initially in Berlin and then it went to Lyon and it is part of the biennial which the title is “Manifesto of Fragility.” So, the idea was taking at Beirut as an example of fragility and as a city that is fragile but perhaps due to its fragility, it keeps on persevering and connecting the people who are somehow related to it because that is what binds us all together. Our fragility. Now, here is the last stop.

RN:     How did people take the political aspect of the show? How do you think it is conceived in Qatar?

SB:      Well, it is too early to tell because we just opened the exhibition so I don’t know how people will perceive it. However, generally, I think what this show can hopefully do, and this is something I believe that we need to do more of in Lebanon. If we go to Lebanon, there is not one place where we can look at what happened in that war to draw any conclusions or lessons. There is no place of remembrance nor accountability. This exhibition could somehow revoke certain incidents that led us to where we ended up back then but also, to where we are today. It is a very important exercise of self-reflection and I think this is what drew me to this project in the first place. I learned so many new things I didn’t know and from another perspective, it was a way pf rethinking a lot of things I thought I knew. I believe there’s another perspective on this topic so it is essential for us if we want to progress.

Farid Aouad, Metro scene, 1960–1970, Oil on canvas
195 x 390 cm, Courtesy Hala Wardé

Beirut was a city in continual redefinition, shaped by political and social forces that extended beyond its borders. During this period, an influx of intellectuals and cultural practitioners from the Middle East and Arabic-speaking North Africa flowed into Beirut amidst a time of regional revolution, coups, and wars. Foreign capital flowed into the city, and new commercial galleries, independent art spaces, and museums emerged. The city was bursting at the seams, not only with people but also with ideas.

Despite the golden age of prosperity, Beirut’s fragility was palpable, with underlying antagonisms festered that would eventually erupt into a 15-year civil war. Beirut and the Golden Sixties takes a contemporary lens on the past, providing a new point of entry into the current moment by looking to the most creative and critical minds of an earlier generation of thinkers, writers, and makers.

Aref El Rayess, Untitled, 1977–78. Installation view, Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility, 2022, © Gropius Bau, Foto: Luca Girardini
Adel al-Saghir (1930–2020), Oriental Symbol, 1973, Oil on canvas 200 x 150 cm, Courtesy Jim Saghir

Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility is an exhibition that revisits a transformative chapter in Beirut’s modern history. From the 1958 Lebanon crisis to 1975, the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut was a hub of cultural and artistic expression amidst the turmoil of the region. The exhibition showcases the works of 35 artists, presenting around 220 artworks and over 200 archival documents that capture the zeitgeist of a pivotal period in Beirut’s history.

Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Associate Curators of Gropius Bau and Directors at Hamburger Bahnhof–Museum für Gegenwart–Berlin, the exhibition is organised in collaboration with the 16th edition of the Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art. The exhibition is presented in five thematic sections that explore the diverse artistic practices and political projects that thrived in Beirut during the 1950s to 1970s.

Simone Baltaxé Martayan, The Workers, c. 1950–1959, Oil on canvas, 248 x 153 cm, The Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum Collection, Elsa Martayan (Paris)

The exhibition showcases a heterogeneous mix of artists whose drive for formal innovation was matched only by the tenacity of their political convictions. The artworks on display trace the antagonism between Beirut’s politicised cosmopolitanism and its surrounding trans-regional conflicts. Among the artists featured in the exhibition are Shafic Abboud, Etel Adnan, Farid Aouad, Dia al-Azzawi, Alfred Basbous, Joseph Basbous, Michel Basbous, Assadour Bezdikian, Huguette Caland, Rafic Charaf, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Georges Doche, Simone Fattal, Laure Ghorayeb, Paul Guiragossian, Farid Haddad, John Hadidian, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Jumana Bayazid El-Husseini, Dorothy Salhab Kazemi, Helen El-Khal, Simone Baltaxé Martayan, Jamil Molaeb, Fateh al-Moudarres, Nicolas Moufarrege, Mehdi Moutashar, Aref El Rayess, Adel al-Saghir, Mahmoud Said, Nadia Saikali, Hashim Samarchi, Mona Saudi, Juliana Seraphim, Cici Sursock, and Khalil Zgaib.

Khalil Zgaib, Untitled, 1958, Oil on masonite 60 x 100 cm, Saleh Barakat Collection, Agial Art Gallery, Beirut

A highlight of the exhibition is a comprehensive multi-media installation created specifically for the show by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, who live and work between Paris and Beirut. Their installation contemplates the transformation of artworks by acts of violence, adding a new dimension to the exhibition.

Stephanie Rosenthal, Director of Gropius Bau, emphasises the importance of the exhibition’s programming, stating that it “looks at history from a contemporary perspective while emphasising the inter-relatedness of art to current and past socio-political conflicts.” The exhibition highlights the key role of artists in defining

Huguette Caland, Visage, 1979, Oil on canvas, 81 x 81 cm, Courtesy Huguette Caland Estate

Teaser text: Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art recently launched “Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility,” a multidisciplinary exhibition co-curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. This exhibition explores a tumultuous chapter in the development of modernism in Beirut, spanning from the 1958 Lebanon Crisis to the 1975 Lebanese Civil War.


Beirut and the Golden Sixties: A Manifesto of Fragility

Location: Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art

Duration: March 17 – August 08 2023



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