Lost in the right direction is the second exhibition from Art Design Lebanon (AD Leb), a cultural space and digital platform dedicated to supporting cultural and artistic production in Lebanon and the surrounding region. In collaboration with the Ministry of Culture Directorate General of Antiquities, contemporary works by established and emerging artists, designers, and artisans are displayed at an archaeological site in the mountains east of Beirut in a rare, public outdoor exhibition.
A combination of sculptures, photography, drawings, textiles, and design interventions are installed across Deir El Kalaa – a Roman Byzantine settlement in the village of Beit Meri – creating a dialogue between the contemporary and the ancient arts and crafts. By encouraging organic collaborations between the thirty-seven participating artists, designers, artisans, and collectives, AD Leb aims to dismantle stereotypes that divide these disciplines and to challenge the convention of exhibiting them separately. Amongst the varied artworks, recurrent themes include nature and the Lebanese landscape, political turmoil and the upheaval of the pandemic, traditions and rituals, the passage of time, loss, memory, and hope.
To facilitate a holistic approach, the participating creatives were given tours by archaeology professor Assaad Seif to inform their works. This has resulted in pieces which both draw inspiration from and channel the energy of Deir El Kalaa, contributing to AD Leb’s goal of reviving a rich historical site and adapting a public outdoor space – something significantly lacking in Lebanon – for people to enjoy.
Visual artist Nathaniel Rackowe drew inspiration and forms from two unrealised design works by Gaïa Fodoulian to produce the sculptural, abstract piece Drop by Drop. It was partly influenced by Fodoulian’s preparatory drawings for a work inspired by the stalagmites in the Jeita Grotto, Lebanon. The fractured lines of stainless steel beams – echoing the ruins and disintegrated structures at Deir El Kalaa – are tipped with drops of light, pointing to a hopeful future.
Fiber Artist Adrian Pepe collaborated with Bisat Al Rih, a group of Lebanese craftswomen who work with wool and use traditional loom-weaving techniques for the creation of carpets and tapestries. Through a process of spinning, hand embroidering, and felting, the wool is transformed into artefacts laden with emotion, mythology and symbolism. Pepe presents an embroidered Sky Map – inspired by the way shepherds relied on stars for guidance – within a curated space. A floor to ceiling woolen macrocosm, it references felt as the original textile, and its interconnection with ancient nomadic traditions. In these uncertain times, Pepe’s works evoke a dormant, more tangible understanding of nature and a primal, grounded form of existence.
Artist Christine Safatly presents drawings and multimedia assemblages – including charcoal, oil paint, sugar, latex, wire, fabric, and cardboard, amongst other materials – which explore gendered corporeality, forms of alienation, and collective socioeconomic struggles, informed by her life experiences as a woman in Lebanon.
Other participating artists, designers, artisans and makers include Elias and Yousef Anastas; Lara Baladi; Bokja (Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri); Samer Bou Rjeily; Claudia Chahine; Karen Chekerdjian; Nohad El Daher; Oliver De Gem; Gilbert Debs; Nada Debs; Gaïa Fodoulian; Nouhad Hannaddaher; Hatem Imam; Rina Jaber; Roger Gemayel Lighting; Khalife Glass (Nisrine Khalife); Mohamad Kanaan; Natasha Karam; Marm Group Stone; Paul Merhy; Elie Morcos; Kamil Mrad; Hussein Nassereddine; Opus Magnum Gallery; Pierre Rajha; Safa Group (Marwan Bou Ghanem); Mahmoud Safadi; Roula Salamoun; Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi; Caroline Tabet; Sibylle Tarazi; and Christian Zahr.
The exhibition’s title – Lost in the right direction – is a quote drawn from Gaïa Fodoulian’s Instagram page. An emerging designer herself, Gaïa developed the idea for AD Leb in early 2020 before her untimely death following the Beirut port explosion of 4 August that year.
At the end of another turbulent year for Lebanon, this show offers a chance to connect and instigates a vital dialogue around the purpose and hope that can be found in creativity. The title also resonates more widely with global events following an unprecedented time throughout the pandemic. Whilst we are adapting and seeking direction in a constantly shifting reality, we can find new meaning through artistic expression and via the broad perspective provided by history and culture.
Within the framework of the exhibition, workshops will also take place where artisanal practices and products will be showcased, shedding light on the importance of preserving and sustaining these endangered crafts.
The exhibition is on view from the 4th of December until the 9th of January at Deir El Kalaa archaeological site, Beit Meri