Selections Magazine has asked Lebanese-Palestinian art connoisseur and collector Ramzi Dalloul, founder of the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF), to select 35 artworks from over 4000 acquisitions he has ardently accumulated over the last four decades. Alas, a constricting task given the importance of the collections copious nature.
The attempt to accommodate this particular publishing format has led him to choose what he would label as ”representative pieces”, ones that best exemplify the Arab world’s overarching artistic landscape. He does not give this selection priority in terms of his personal liking as he finds each piece in the collection to be relevant to the enterprise’s core objective: educating the local masses as to their basic rights.
With the largest collection of Arab art, Basel Dalloul, Ramzi’s son, established the foundation circa 2016 and manages it with unparalleled missionary zeal. According to the Dallouls, amassing a regionally cohesive collection is instrumental to elevating the collective consciousness. A purely cultural, civilizational and educational message dictates his elective methodology. For some time now, Arab artists have been living and working in a highly affected socio-economic and political environment. Fortunately, their work reflects this state of perpetual becoming and more often than none, lends itself perfectly to DAF’s prevailing cause. People have asked him time and again why he leans towards political subjects when in fact his main interest lies deeper than that. How can we as a nation, as an all-encompassing community, from Morocco to Iraq, from Syria to Yemen, bring about some kind of renaissance when experience has informed us about the inconsistencies of political intervention i.e. coups d’états and revolution? Artists have been the most consistent messengers of truth through time and their work reaches people from all walks of life. It is only befitting to use the cultural and educational instruments he has at his disposal to instigate real change within the society. Deeply concerned with the region’s inability to contend with global advancements in science and communication due to a drastic skew in economic distribution, Dalloul felt like his actions should be directed towards aiding local developments. “I would like most of all to see the society fly. It cannot do so unless everybody has been given wings”.
The collection contains works dating from the late 19th century up to the present. The chronological evolution in artistic tendencies and influences play a role in placing the Arab world within the universal cultural system. Local artists who have travelled west to learn from European masters have adopted their technical advancements and have progressively applied them with “a local flavor”. Certain budgetary constraints have also informed the style of collecting. Since it would be impossible to collect each artist’s entire body of work, Dalloul has developed impeccable discernment and adaptive faculties. Only interested in the cream of the crop, each acquisition is measured in relevance to the greater good. As an ongoing endeavor, he is consistently raising the bar by cycling out older works to make room for newer ones he deems worthy of the collection. Keeping up with the art market’s tendencies, his work is never done. To him “art is a living organism. We cannot stay indifferent to new schools and forms of expression. We have to change with the changing world”.
A dedicated intellectual with a background in economics and finance, Dalloul never aspired to be a wealthy man but rather has always wanted to be a professor, which was very apparent during our highly informative tour through the exhibition space. Applying a methodology proper to a historian, the cumulative bank of information at the tip of his tong is the result of reading endless books, rummaging through uncirculated records and giving equal importance to all sources. The study of history informs all of his actions, from the obvious ones all the way to the deep rooted ones. More importantly, it has always been key for him to meet the artists in person, or the artist’s relatives if deceased. Documentation isn’t complete without hands on testimonials and nitty gritty details. The entire spectrum of the artist’s process would be lost to the public if he didn’t aid his personal investigation with the inside scoop. Through the years, this has resulted in close friendships between himself and the artists, such as the one he so fondly mentions with painter Mohammad Rawwas or writer Brahim ElAlawi. Dalloul has also commissioned big artistic projects which he saw as powerful mediums of raising the collective consciousness. The most dramatic example is the 7.5m by 3m tapestry he commissioned as a reproduction of Dia el-Azzawi’s “Sabra and Shatila massacre”. This was a gargantuan endeavor.
Dalloul says laughingly that he is “jealous” of his own collection until he gets to share it on a more public platform. His plans, to build a museum in Beirut, the center of culture in the Arab world, will project DAF’s cultural contribution to an international scale and breed new life into the collection. Culture to Ramzi Dalloul is an amalgamation of all disciplines, “all beautiful creative attempts to turn a subject into a visual or audible form for all the rest of the world to experience”. This is the vision for the future. A centre that would include programs for all ages, folkloric concerts and theatrical performances. Even at this stage, the impact of the collection is tremendous on fascinated visitors. These votes of confidence renew the Dalloul family’s certitude that they are on the right track.
Consequently superseding the collections quantitative distinction, Dalloul’s dedicated qualitative penchant edifies the utter breadth of knowledge as the most powerful weapon. The hazardous upkeep of the physical premises on the eve of its anticipated desti¬¬nation is a testament to this man’s integral patriotism.
”My wish is to leave a legacy which informs future generations about the potential in creative thought and action. Through culture, the collective consciousness can be elevated and all can learn about their democratic and humanitarian rights. There is a need for a peaceful revolution, one in which the weapon of choice is knowledge. Our forefathers have fought through dark times but they never gave up and stood tall till their very last breath. Like a tree, it dies standing straight. So you see, the way has clearly been paved for a brighter future.”
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Hijacked by Fereydoun Ave #46, pages 210 – 236 and Limited Edition #50, pages 130 – 154