Rima Nasser: Could you share the story of your artistic journey and your connection with Basel Dalloul and the Dalloul Art Foundation? How have they influenced your creative path as an artist?
Alfred Tarazi: At the heart of my practice lies this fundamental existential question: who am I? In the unsettled geography of the region, that question is a matter of life, and often tragically of death. In the construction of the self, identity is a transgenerational layering of information one often takes for granted. To find the answer, or even to build that answer, encounters with others are key. Early on, I watched mesmerised and with some disbelief Ramzi Dalloul speak about his collection in a roundtable in the United Arab Emirates. A little while later, the foundation acquired one of my works and to my absolute amazement, while delivering it, I discovered this treasure trove of Arab art about five minutes away from my home in Beirut, in the neighbourhood where I grew up and still reside. A few years later Ramzi passed away and it befell on Basel to carry that tremendous load, the responsibility of this collection, this transgenerational layering of information to which I now belong and through which I can now answer the question. I am…
RN: The Dalloul Art Foundation has been a significant supporter of various artists. Can you elaborate on the specific ways in which their support has impacted your work and artistic development?
AT: For an artist to have direct access to a seasoned art professional, to someone who carries the load of such a collection is an absolute privilege.
Watching Basel deal with that load with his natural lightness and yet his profound intake has helped me embark on a project as I have also inherited from my family a cumbersome set of objects. The Tarazi family has been involved in the making and trading of woodwork and copperwork for many generations. Today I would like to relegate this collection to either a foundation or a museum.
Before this can happen, I need to however work though this collection and since the beginning of this project Basel has been a formidable ally. This collection is important for it reflects on a way of life that is now defunct, it shows us how past generations used to live and infuse their lives with culture. They are also important from a maker’s perspective.
Today I am also a maker, somebody who produces, an artist. The foundation offers that crazy opportunity to be in dialogue with other makers, some who have passed away and many still alive.
Through the foundation we become a community of makers, of thinkers, of mad men and women who can expose all our dreams and illuminations to instil some light to the bleak darkness that shrouds the Arab world.
RN: You mentioned that your work revolves around historical investigations related to the Lebanese civil war. How do you view the significance of the Dalloul Art Foundation’s role in documenting and preserving the artistic heritage of the Arab world, particularly in the context of artists addressing complex historical subjects like yourself?
AT: At the very moment as Gaza is being obliterated and the Zionist entity is openly threatening Lebanon with annihilation ,one cannot misunderstand the role and agency of art as a tool of resistance against a history of ongoing oppression.
The Arab world in its entirety has been through the past century decimated by conflicts in the bleak darkness of the ongoing Israeli Palestinian struggle. The difficulty, whether we are talking about the Lebanese Civil War or to even take the more actual example of the war in Syria, is how to write these histories of bloodshed. How to make sense of such outpours of violence? In the exercise of writing history, art and art history become an invaluable ally. The West has taught us this, it has taught us how you cannot write history without the arts. Today when we speak of the Arab world, we speak of failed modernity. But where politics failed, culture prevails. As we are in the process of writing these histories, the works of artists present in the Dalloul Art Foundation constitute thus an invaluable asset, a repository of thoughts, a palimpsest of the past and a blue print for the future.
RN: Basel Dalloul and the Dalloul Art Foundation are known for their dedication to promoting Arab artists on a global stage. In your opinion, what is the role and importance of the collection curated by the foundation in advancing the recognition of Arab art internationally?
AT: The work done by the foundation to preserve art locally is enormous. The work done to represent the work internationally is equally challenging.
It is not only about presenting Arab art internationally as much as presenting Arab art as an international counterpart to Western art. As we are starting to see the pioneers of Arab modernity and contemporaneity celebrated internationally one can definitely say that we are on the right track. And as much as the global stage is important one cannot undermine the challenge to present the art locally.
One cannot undermine the long way we have to go to create a viable local cultural infrastructure and ecosystem. A cultural economy, an economy of creativity and love that can overcome this idea that we are a defeated people in a land of ruins.
RN: Looking ahead, what are your expectations and aspirations regarding your ongoing collaboration with the Dalloul Art Foundation, and how do you envision your artistic journey evolving with their support in the coming years?
AT: I completely abide to the agenda of the foundation of challenging Western stereotypes about the Arab world. Western stereotypes are sickening. The West is sick by its imposition of double standards in regards to human rights and what they think we as Arabs are capable or incapable of. Of course, we, the Arabs, are equally guilty. Had it not been for our neglect and contempt shown to our own history, to our own diversities, we would not find ourselves in such a pitiful state. Through the work of the foundation and all other cultural institutions across the Arab world, I hope that what Arabs failed to do politically they will succeed in doing culturally. This is our last chance as a people to utter our names shamelessly and to pass on to the upcoming generations the aspirations and dreams of their forefathers. These aspirations and dreams matter, for they constitute a blueprint for a better future.
RN: As an artist whose work spans various mediums and delves into historical narratives, could you provide insights into your view of the collection and the foundation’s work with artists like yourself? How does this support impact the broader art community?
AT: For the past ten years I have been immersed in the world of Lebanese print culture: newspapers, magazines, books, posters, pamphlets…This is the world in which we manifested primarily our concerns, hopes and aspirations. It is the world in which the political and cultural are completely intertwined. And it is a world, because of the technical skills it required, that was entirely shaped by artists: illustrators, photographers, caricaturists, typographers, calligraphers…some artists at the time could not make a living through the sale of their work but could work in the print industry. What became interesting for me is to map out who produced what and in what publications and to see how low art and high art intersect. An art collection of Modern Arab art is amazing, but to also find how these modern arab artists impacted popular culture is equally important. The foundation’s work becomes a reference point, an invaluable chronology of dates, names and practices for me to work from. I also believe that for the boarder art community, it is important for aspiring and young artists to establish a dialogue with the practices of their elders. From a maker’s perspective I would say that this informs a practice. To have such a collection accessible to all in the middle of Beirut is a treasure trove for practitioners first and all art lovers.