The Custodian: Art Philanthropy in Action: The Foundation’s Impact on Communities by Nada Ghandour

This article appeared in The Custodian Issue #66 and was dedicated to the Dalloul Art Foundation and its custodian Basel Dalloul in which we covered the foundation’s mission, influence and importance in championing and safeguarding Arab art for generations to come.

RIMA NASSER: COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR COLLABORATION WITH BASEL DALLOUL AND YOUR PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH HIM IN THE CONTEXT OF ART AND CULTURE?

NADA GHANDOUR: The first time I visited the Dalloul Art Foundation was in the summer of 2019 following the advice of a colleague, a heritage curator in France who, at the time, worked at the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi.

Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate

I was very impressed by the collection at DAF, by the modern and contemporary pieces of Arab art that it preserves and by the geography it covers. Before this visit, I thought that I knew everything about Picasso, given that I graduated from the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne in History of Art, and through my work at the Musée National Picasso – Paris. Following this visit, I learnt that Picasso was inspired by an Algerian artist named Baya Mahieddine, for his ceramic pieces. Viewing his art with this new knowledge, the source of Picasso’s inspiration now seems obvious. I was then able to measure the importance of this collection and the studies carried out on its artists. I could not but congratulate Dr. Dalloul for his vision, the richness of his database and the professionalism of the archiving and biography work undertaken on Arab artists in his collection.

This also made me think of Amin Maalouf and his book entitled The Crusades Through Arab Eyes and the parallel thought that we should likewise see the history of art from the Arab point of view. This also resonates with what was expressed by HRH Prince Mohamad Bin Salman who, once said during an interview, that it is time for Arab countries to contribute to the development of the world, particularly at the intellectual level.

This was my first meeting with Basel Dalloul. Then, three years later, in 2021, we met again when I was assigned by the Ministry of Culture to be the Commissioner and Curator of the Lebanese Pavilion project.

RN: REGARDING YOUR COLLABORATIVE WORK ON THE 2022 VENICE BIENNALE, HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE THE FOUNDATION’S SUPPORT IMPACTING ARTISTS AND THE PRESERVATION OF LEBANON’S ARTISTIC HERITAGE?

NG: Let me start with the impact of DAF on the local artistic scene. It is important to keep in mind, that to be able to compete with all the participating countries at the Arte Biennale in Venice, one of the most prestigious exhibitions of contemporary art in the world, Lebanon should present work of this high level. Hence, we should ensure that the Lebanese artistic scene is rich, fertile and mature. In this context, the impact of DAF has two aspects: a financial one as a Patron of the Arts and an educational aspect, given that this collection is open to the public.

Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate

DAF supports artists and encourages them by purchasing their pieces, thus allowing them the continuity of their creative work.

Likewise, by opening its collection to the public, Basel Dalloul contributes to the artistic education of professionals. A visit to the DAF allows young students in the field of visual arts to see masterpieces in real-life which help to sharpen the eye and to discover the artworks of artists from other countries such as Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and many more countries that these students do not have the financial means to visit.

DAF hence complements the existing cultural network in Lebanon, namely galleries, arts residencies, conservation schools and art schools which train future artists, both Lebanese and those from other Arab countries.

It is impossible to preserve this cultural network or keep it active without external exposure and visibility. The Venice Biennale, one of the most important art exhibitions in the world, and one that houses excellence in art, is an outstanding way to promote the Lebanese art scene internationally.

DAF, through its support of the Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022, contributes to this promotion, consequently accompanying Lebanese artists both at the national and international levels.

The presence of the Lebanese Pavilion in Venice has significant repercussions on artistic activities and practices in Lebanon. It benefits the entire contemporary art community in Lebanon by creating new work opportunities in different areas and professions related to the field of art and culture. Participating in this global artistic discourse of contemporary art is essential for the safeguarding of cultural sectors in Lebanon, which unfortunately lack funding from the state. Moreover, we should not forget that in several countries, culture is the sector that suffers first each time there are budget cuts. However, according to a publication dated April 2023 by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), cultural tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry and represents 40% of global tourism in the world according to estimates.

RN: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PRESERVING ARAB ART, AND HOW DO YOU VIEW BASEL DALLOUL’S EFFORTS IN PROMOTING AND ARCHIVING ART COLLECTIONS IN THIS CONTEXT?

NG: We have amazing artists in the Arab World who have a lot to say, show, and express on local social, economic, and political issues. Art reflects the environment in which it originated. The study of art allows the study of an entire society.

Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate

From my point of view, as a heritage curator, it is essential to preserve our culture and our roots for future generations, to educate our children today on their sumptuous heritage, and to contribute to the diversity and uniqueness that create the richness of the world.

Western museums are still timid in acquiring Arab art. It is our duty not only to preserve it, but to explain, and exhibit it. And most important, we must not reduce Arab art to the beauty of the colours and patterns.

In 2022, for the Lebanese Pavilion, Basel Dalloul produced a video showing Ayman Baalbaki, the artist who represented Lebanon at the Venice Biennale, explaining his work. This kind of documentary constitutes a gold mine for art historians, researchers, and art students. It is a valuable archive for future generations who will work on visual art and a reflection of the social and political context of Lebanon at that time.

Hence, I salute Basel Dalloul’s efforts of preserving Arab art, documenting it and exhibiting it, and for his vision and his desire to record, during an artist’s lifetime, their thoughts and creation process. All of this without a thought to any cost or return on investment since DAF keeps these records for its own archives.

RN: SUPPORTING EMERGING ARTISTS IS CRUCIAL FOR THE ART WORLD’S EVOLUTION. HOW DO YOU SEE THE FOUNDATION CONTRIBUTING TO THE GROWTH OF YOUNG ARTISTS?

NG: DAF acquires works of emerging artists which is crucial for the development of the artistic scene; but more importantly, it supports freedom of creation and empowers artistic expressions, giving the artist the financial means to make a living from his work, rendering him the sole Master of his art. If we go back through history, Lebanese women artists like Huguette Caland, and Saloua Raouda Choucair had a more modern style of painting, as they dared abstraction while their male counterparts, due to a fear of lack of income or inability to support their families, were forced, either to opt for the figurative painting appreciated by the buyers at the time, or to completely abandon their profession as artists.

RN: IN YOUR VIEW, WHAT POTENTIAL USES OR ROLES DO YOU ENVISION FOR THE FOUNDATION IN THE BROADER LANDSCAPE OF ART AND CULTURE PRESERVATION?

NG: I think that DAF plays the role of a museum of Arab art, as opposed to a private collection that reflects the taste of its owner. It is a young institution whichhas a significant collection of major works and a solid policy of acquisition, conservation, exhibition, digitalisation, documentation, archiving and education and is open to all audiences.

RN: LOOKING AHEAD TO THE 2024 VENICE BIENNALE, CAN YOU SHARE ANY INSIGHTS INTO BASEL DALLOUL’S CONTRIBUTIONS OR INVOLVEMENT IN SHAPING THIS UPCOMING EVENT, AND WHAT IMPACT DO YOU ANTICIPATE IT WILL HAVE ON THE ART WORLD?

NG: I invited Basel Dalloul to join the Selection Committee of the Lebanese Pavilion which selected Mounira Al Solh to represent Lebanon at the 60th International Art Exhibition in Venice next year.

His contribution is valuable as he has a sharp eye and an in-depth knowledge of the Lebanese art scene and artists. In addition, he is the head of a respectful non-profit art foundation.

It is a first that Lebanon is exhibiting for the second consecutive period at the Venice Biennale. Previously in 2022, it was a very challenging mission due to the human, social and economic difficulties Lebanon was facing. Today the region is experiencing another tragedy, but this Pavilion will be a testament to the perseverance, hope and vitality of the Lebanese artistic scene. It will confirm that Lebanon is an important centre for artistic creation and has its place on the international art map.


About Nada Ghandour

Nada Ghandour, a heritage curator, holds a PhD in history and is an expert in Modern and Contemporary art. She earned her academic qualifications at prestigious institutions, including a master’s in museology from École du Louvre, a master’s in history of art from Sorbonne Paris IV, a master’s in preventive conservation of heritage from Sorbonne Paris 1, and a master’s in digital humanities from Sciences Po, Paris.

As an independent curator with a focus on cultural management and digital technology, Nada Ghandour has worked in some of the most prominent museums in Europe and North America, including the Museum of Fine Art in Montréal, the Musée National Picasso-Paris in France, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. She has been actively involved in major exhibitions, such as Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to the present day (2008), Picasso! The Anniversary Exhibition(2015-2016) , Icons of Modern Art. The Shtouchkine Collection (2016-2017). She also served as the commissioner and curator of the Lebanese Pavilion, The World in the Image of Man, at the Venice Biennale in 2022, and is set to assume the roles of commissioner and curator for the Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2024.

Caption featured image: Nada Ghandour.

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