The Custodian: Preserving the Past, Inspiring the Future: The Foundation’s Conservation Efforts by Dr Basel Dalloul

RIMA NASSER: DR. BASEL DALLOUL, COULD YOU PLEASE PROVIDE AN OVERVIEW OF THE DALLOUL ART FOUNDATION’S COMMITMENT TO ART PRESERVATION AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN TODAY’S WORLD, PARTICULARLY IN THE CONTEXT OF YOUR COLLECTION EFFORTS?

BASEL DALLOUL: The Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF) is deeply committed to art preservation. We believe that art is not only a reflection of our history and culture but also a valuable source of inspiration and education for future generations. Our mission on the issue of preservation is clear. It is to safeguard and promote the preservation of art from the Arab world in all its forms, including but not limited to paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations. In today’s world, where rapid globalisation and technological advancements often overshadow traditional art forms, the preservation of our artistic heritage becomes even more crucial. By preserving and showcasing artworks from different eras and parts of our diverse culture, we aim to foster a sense of cultural understanding and appreciation.

Our collection efforts are focused on acquiring and conserving artworks that represent the diverse artistic expression of a group of Arab art pioneers from our region.

We collaborate with artists, collectors, and institutions to ensure that these artworks are protected, studied, and made accessible to the public. Through exhibitions, educational programmes, and research initiatives, we strive to raise awareness about the importance of art preservation and its relevance in contemporary society.

By preserving and promoting art from the Arab world, the Dalloul Art Foundation aims to contribute to a world where artistic expressions are valued, celebrated, and preserved for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

RN: PRESERVING ART FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS IS A COMPLEX TASK. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO ESTABLISH THE FOUNDATION AND TAKE ON THIS CRUCIAL ROLE OF ART CONSERVATION AND COLLECTION?

BD: I’ve always had a deep appreciation for art and its ability to transcend time, language, and culture. Seeing the deterioration of many valuable artworks from several state collections, both in Lebanon and Egypt, made me realise the importance of preserving our collection for future generations. Just like my late parents did for me and my younger brother, I now have the responsibility of ensuring that the masterpiece – about 90% of what’s in the collection are considered masterpieces –

in the Dalloul Collection continue to inspire and educate people for years to come. This is why, when my late father passed this responsibility onto me in 2014, I established the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation. The collection itself will remain a family asset for the time being. Its management, archives, catalogues, research, preservation, and promotion are at the core of DAF’s mission: to introduce, educate, conserve, and promote Arab art to local and global audiences.

Tagreed Darghouth
From the series “Merkava”, 2017. 115 x 200 cm DAF Beirut

RN: CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THE FOUNDATION’S NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS AND SUCCESS STORIES IN THE REALM OF ART PRESERVATION AND COLLECTION OVER THE YEARS?

BD: Well, for starters, DAF has been instrumental in preserving and archiving a huge collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. The foundation was founded to manage and promote this massive collection, which reflects the diversity and boldness of art from the Arab world. The foundation has and continues to collaborate with museums and institutions all over the world, stretching from the Americas to Southeast Asia and everything in between. Since the beginning of this year alone, we’ve accommodated ten

loans, and we have two more months before the year is over. DAF is very strong in, and committed to, social media and media production in general.

The achievement that sets us apart is our website at www.dafbeirut.org. The DAF website has become the de facto reference site for everything related to Arab art. Today, the site is used by schools, scholars, curators, universities, museums, auction houses, and anyone who just wants to research and enjoy art from the Arab World, and it’s there for everyone to access for free.

RN: THE FOUNDATION’S COLLECTION EFFORTS MUST INVOLVE A DELIBERATE SELECTION PROCESS. COULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CRITERIA AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES THAT INFLUENCE YOUR CHOICES WHEN ADDING ARTWORK TO THE COLLECTION?

In Just Paper – Group XV, 2022, Manal Al Dowayan delves into the portrayal of women in religious texts authored by men, symbolising the delicate yet enduring nature of their prescribed roles through porcelain reproductions. The artwork underscores the fragility of these narratives while simultaneously questioning the space women occupy between their private realms and a public sphere often deemed to belong to men.

BD: The foundation, under my leadership, has always followed a deliberate selection process. We start by plugging in a few glaring holes in our collection with the pioneers of modern Arab art, like Faik Hassan of Iraq, Ragheb Ayad and Hamed Owais of Egypt, a copper piece by Farid Belkahia, a black Melehi, both of Morocco and others from a variety of countries in the Arab world, which we currently cover. We then go through the major art movements, making sure we have a comprehensive representation of these artists’ work, and then preview the generation of artists they mentored.

While both my parents did an amazing job amassing the bulk of this unique collection, we still had some holes to fill. During the past couple of years, we’ve accomplished 90% of this task. The next order of business, considering I run the foundation as though it were a commercial enterprise, is the big reshuffle we’re embarking on. While the foundation will maintain its solid commitment to modern Arab art, which will always be the core and the backbone of the foundation’s collection, my focus and the foundation’s will be towards the younger, but more established, contemporary Arab artists.

Serwan Baran, Beirut Clean Up, 2020. 190 x 228 cm DAF Beirut

BD: We’ve acquired pieces from my dear friends, including Ayman Baalbaki’s iconic Piccadilly Theatre, 2019, and Warehouse No. 12, 2020; Abdul Rahman Katanani’s Vulva, 2022, and its companion; along with Katanani’s Girl Running with a tile—Beirut Blast, 2020. We’ve also acquired Mohamad Said Baalbaki’s Revolution; Ziad Antar’s Policemen on Motorbikes series, 2009; Jumanah Abbas’s There’s A Vicious War Launched in the Area of Frequencies, 2023; Leila Jabre Jureidini’s Kilim I and Kilim V, 2023; Manal Al Dowayan’s Just Paper—Group XV, 2022; Die Famous’s The Coverts, 2023; Cellar Door, 2022; Charlie, 2022, among others. We also acquired Amani Al Thuwaini’s Staged, 2020; Zayn Qahtani’s Through the Looking Glass, 2022; Moustapha Akrim’s Attajamhur, 2022; Souad Abdelrasoul’s Eve’s Apple; Hussain Sharif’s Faces 3, 2021; Sheikha Al Mazrou’s Paper Sculpture, 2022; Serwan Baran’s 30 Seconds Out of Time, 2021; Beirut Clean Up, 2020; Rashid Diab’s Migration; Tagreed Darghouth’s From the series “Merkava”, 2017; Hady Sy’s Zero Dollar series, 2014-2015; and Bashar Al Hroub’s Salt Land #1, 2021; and his Saint series, 2023, just to name a few.

The foundation will also collaborate with and support a handful of galleries for emerging artists. It is important, both to me personally and to the foundation’s mission, that we continue to have a pipeline of artists and collectors to represent our culture and identity through art in all its forms.

Moustapha Akrim
Attajamhur, 2022. 290 x 83 x 6 cm DAF Beirut

RN: ART CONSERVATION AND COLLECTION CAN ENCOMPASS VARIOUS FORMS OF ART, FROM PAINTINGS TO SCULPTURES TO DIGITAL ART. HOW DOES THE DALLOUL ART FOUNDATION APPROACH THE PRESERVATION AND COLLECTION OF DIFFERENT ART MEDIUMS, AND WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF THIS DIVERSE COLLECTION?

BD: The Dalloul Art Foundation takes a comprehensive and meticulous approach when it comes to the preservation and collection of various art mediums. We recognise the importance of preserving the integrity and authenticity of each artwork, ensuring that it remains in its truest form for generations to come. Our collection spans a wide range of artistic mediums, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, and more. We’re even researching digital art (not NFTs), which I’m looking forward to tackling. This diverse collection holds great relevance as it showcases the richness and diversity of artistic expression across different mediums, time periods, and cultures. That reach extends throughout the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq, down to Sudan and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.

It allows for a deeper understanding and appreciation of various artistic techniques, themes, and cultural contexts. The Foundation aims to create a space where art enthusiasts, scholars, and the general public can engage with and learn from this diverse collection, fostering a dialogue about the power of art in shaping our collective cultural consciousness. By preserving and curating these artworks, the Dalloul Art Foundation contributes to the broader narrative of art history and ensures that these valuable artistic expressions are not lost or forgotten.

RN: THE FOUNDATION’S CONSERVATION AND COLLECTION INITIATIVES OFTEN REQUIRE COLLABORATION WITH EXPERTS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE EXPERTS, INSTITUTIONS, OR ORGANISATIONS THE FOUNDATION COLLABORATES WITH IN THE PURSUIT OF PRESERVING AND COLLECTING ART?

BD: Considering the context, we are the authority when it comes to Arab art; however, we work very closely with ‘experts’. Such specialists include Gurr Johns; all three major auction houses, especially my dear friend Dr Ridha Moumni, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Middle East and his wonderful team; and gallerists, such as Meem and my dear friend Charlie Pocock, in Dubai; as well as other foundations and museums, such as Barjeel in Sharjah, UAE, and Mathaf in Doha, Qatar, respectively.

RN: ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC PROJECTS OR ARTWORKS THAT STAND OUT IN YOUR MIND AS PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING OR REWARDING IN TERMS OF PRESERVATION AND COLLECTION?

BD: I would say our website at dafbeirut.org was among them. The DAF website is a work in progress because of the amount of information we upload daily to it. Yet, the biggest challenge there was figuring out the information architecture and the clean user experience and finally getting it launched at the beginning of the COVID lockdown. To become the reference site for Arab art, it needed to be clean and easy to navigate, and its information content needed to be thoroughly vetted. Besides the web project, establishing our media group and getting it into full production mode was quite a feat. We have produced several video presentations on numerous subjects with respect to the collection. DAF continues to refine and produce content for our audiences.

Additionally, I would have to consider the project of creating the giant tapestry, produced over four years at the Real Fábrica de Tapices in Madrid, Spain.

The Tapestry is a replica of Dia al-Azzawi’s Sabra and Chatila Massacre (2018, also referred to as the Guernica of the Arabs, depicting the refugee camps in 1982. My late father convinced his dear friend Dia al-Azzawi to allow him to produce this tapestry so that it might preserve and outlast the original piece, which was bought for the Tate Modern. It was unfortunately drawn on acidic paper, which over time will yellow and deteriorate. My dear friend Rima Nasser and her daughter Anastasia Nysten, the editor-in-chief of Selections Magazine, have already covered this extensive and interesting story. (#46 Fall 2018, pages 46-48).

Dia al-Azzawi, Sabra and Shatila Massacre, “Tapestry”, 2018. 300 x 750 cm DAF Beirut

RN: BEYOND PHYSICAL CONSERVATION AND COLLECTION, HOW DOES THE FOUNDATION ENSURE THAT THE CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ARTWORKS IS ALSO PRESERVED AND SHARED WITH FUTURE GENERATIONS, AND WHY IS THIS RELEVANCE CRUCIAL?

BD: We do this through research and by taking that research and building digital archives for each of our artists. We constantly update them as information is made available. The current weight of the DAF website is 20 gigabytes. The weight of our general database is currently 30 terabytes. Preserving artists’ archives and making them available is just as important as conserving and preserving physical artworks.

RN: WHAT ROLE DOES RESEARCH PLAY IN THE FOUNDATION’S CONSERVATION AND COLLECTION EFFORTS, AND HOW DOES THE FOUNDATION CONTRIBUTE TO ADVANCING THE FIELD OF ART CONSERVATION AND CURATION THROUGH RESEARCH?

BD: Building on what I said earlier, I have to add that without the research, there is no reference to how the work was done to determine how it should be conserved. Similarly, in terms of curation, there are no real stories to tell. What brings art to life is the context and the stories behind the art that we uncover through our research.

RN: LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT ARE THE FOUNDATION’S FUTURE GOALS AND STRATEGIES IN THE REALM OF ART PRESERVATION, COLLECTION, AND THE CONTINUED RELEVANCE OF ITS HOLDINGS?

Farid Belkahia, Sensuelle, 1968. 110 x 97 cm DAF Beirut

BD: In the last couple of years, I’ve been filling in gaps in the modern collection at DAF. At the same time, we’ve been preparing for what we call the ‘reshuffle’.In this process, we will identify pieces in the collection that are redundant, earmark them for a final pass with our research department, clear them for deaccession, and tag them for potential sale. This very process is what resulted in the initial 48 pieces scheduled for Christie’s evening sale on November 9, 2023. While our mission of introducing and educating our audiences on Arab art is essentially the same, our energy will shift from the old-guard modernists to the younger, more contemporary artists from the Arab region. Our strategy to do this is to continue augmenting our database, creating content for our website, and producing a lot of media in the form of documentaries, video presentations, and immersive experiences.

RN: HOW CAN INDIVIDUALS, ARTISTS, AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC CONTRIBUTE TO OR SUPPORT THE DALLOUL ART FOUNDATION’S EFFORTS IN PRESERVING, COLLECTING, AND PROMOTING THE RELEVANCE OF ART AND CULTURAL HERITAGE?

BD: We are exploring many ways through which individuals can support the efforts of the Dalloul Art Foundation. One significant way is through monetary sponsorships, which help provide funding for exhibitions, research, and educational programmes. Artists also have the opportunity to lend or donate their work to the foundation, and they can even collaborate on exhibitions or projects. By attending exhibitions, lectures, and events hosted by the foundation, people help to create awareness and support for our work. Additionally, individuals play a crucial role in our mission when they help spread the word about the foundation and emphasise the importance of preserving cultural heritage.

RN: IN YOUR VIEW, WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE LEGACY THAT THE DALLOUL ART FOUNDATION HOPES TO LEAVE IN TERMS OF ART PRESERVATION, COLLECTION, AND THE ENDURING RELEVANCE OF ITS HOLDINGS IN THE ART WORLD AND BEYOND?

Die Famous, The Coverts, 2023. 186 x 152 cm DAF Beirut

BD: The Dalloul Art Foundation’s ultimate legacy is to be a beacon for preserving and promoting the artistic and cultural heritage of the Arab world. We hope that our collection and the work we do will continue to be relevant and significant in the art world and beyond, providing a deeper understanding of the richness and complexity of Arab culture. We want to ensure that future generations have access to this art and can appreciate its beauty, diversity, and significance. In short, our legacy is to be a ‘Custodian’ of Arab art, preserving it for generations to come and ensuring that it remains relevant and celebrated in the global art world.

RN: WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN ACQUIRING ARTWORK FOR YOUR COLLECTION, AND HOW DO YOU ADDRESS ISSUES RELATED TO PROVENANCE AND AUTHENTICITY?

BD: Some of the biggest challenges are usually around budget, competition, and authenticity. Acquiring artwork can be expensive, especially when it comes to acquiring major works from well-known artists. There’s also a lot of competition in the art world, so it can be difficult to acquire the most sought-after works. Then, there’s the issue of provenance and authenticity; art foundations have to do a lot of research to make sure that the works they acquire are genuine and have a clear history of ownership. Sometimes, this can be challenging, especially when it comes to works from lesser-known artists in the Arab world.

RN: WHAT ELEMENTS MAKE AN ARTIST’S WORK STAND OUT FOR ACQUISITION?

BD: That’s a great question. There are a lot of elements that can make an artist’s work stand out for acquisition.
Originality is one. The work should be unique and show the artist’s individual style. Another element an artist should have is strong technical skills, like drawing, painting, or sculpting. Conceptual depth is also crucial to making a unique piece. The work they produce should have an interesting concept or idea behind it, something that makes it thought-provoking and engaging. Moreover, an artist’s work should resonate with the current cultural or social context and feel fresh and relevant.

Finally, I believe the marketability of an artwork dictates whether it stands out. This may be a bit of a controversial one, but an artist’s work should have the potential to sell and generate income for the foundation.

RN: HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT YOUR COLLECTION REMAINS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE RICH CULTURAL DIVERSITY WITHIN THE MIDDLE EAST, ENCOMPASSING DIFFERENT REGIONS, TRADITIONS, AND INFLUENCES?

BD: To ensure our collection remains representative of the Arab world’s rich diversity, we follow several strategies. We commission works from artists who represent a variety of cultures and traditions within the Middle East. This could include everything from traditional crafts, like weaving and embroidery, to contemporary art forms, like installation and performance art. We also develop partnerships with museums and galleries in different regions to showcase the work of local artists and create opportunities for cultural exchange. On top of that, we also establish scholarship programmes or residencies for artists from diverse backgrounds, giving them the chance to explore new ideas and expand their practice.

RN: ARE THERE SPECIFIC THEMES OR RECURRING NARRATIVES IN ARAB ART THAT YOU FIND PARTICULARLY COMPELLING, AND IF SO, COULD YOU ELABORATE ON THEM?

BD: I wouldn’t really say that there were recurring themes per se, but what really is evident is the empathy that artists from different parts of the Arab world have for one another’s people. Take the late Mohammed Kacimi’s L’Oracle des Temps, 1996, for example, depicting the Western monster coming out of the sky to scoop up and destroy Baghdad. Kacimi is from Morocco, a country on the western edge of the Arab world. He painted about the hardships endured by his Iraqi brethren. Iraq is on the easternmost edge of the Arab world.

Mohammed Kacimi, L’Oracle des Temps, 1996. 217 x 1000 cm DAF Beirut

RN: CAN YOU DISCUSS THE IMPACT OF YOUR FOUNDATION ON THE LOCAL AND GLOBAL ART SCENES, ESPECIALLY IN TERMS OF PROMOTING MIDDLE EASTERN ART AND CONTRIBUTING TO ART DISCOURSE?

BD: Absolutely! The Dalloul Art Foundation has made a big impact on the art world, both locally and globally. DAF has showcased the work of Middle Eastern artists, both at its galleries in Beirut and by making dozens of loans to museums and institutions around the world. The foundation has helped to raise awareness and appreciation for the region’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary art scene.

DAF has also contributed to the global discourse around art by hosting exhibitions, lectures, and events that bring together artists, critics, and scholars from around the world. Moreover, the foundation has played a key role in supporting emerging artists from the region, providing them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive in the art world. Part of this support includes helping them develop their catalogue raisonné. Notably, DAF has supported artists such as Mohammed Kacimi, Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar, Mahmoud Saïd, Ayman Baalbaki, and Steve Sabella, to name a few.

Ayman Baalbaki, Picadilly, 2019. 280 x 390 cm DAF Beirut

RN: WITH YOUR FOUNDATION’S PROMINENT STATUS IN THE ART WORLD, HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING A CULTURAL AMBASSADOR FOR THE MIDDLE EAST?

BD: Being chairman of such a prestigious foundation does carry some weight. I navigate this responsibility by advocating for the inclusion of Middle Eastern art in major art institutions and events, such as biennales and art fairs, around the world. An example of this is our ongoing collaboration with the Venice Biennale, loaning several pieces by our Arab modernists for their shows. I also work with other cultural institutions and organisations to foster cultural exchange between the Middle East and the rest of the world. For example, we are currently loaning Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery as part of the gallery show Partisans of the Nude: An Arab Art Genre in an Era of Contest, 1920–1960.

I also use the foundation’s platform to highlight the important role that art plays in promoting understanding and dialogue between different cultures. And most importantly, I provide a space for Arab artists to showcase their work and engage in critical dialogue.

RN: IN WHAT WAYS HAS THE PERCEPTION OF ARAB ART EVOLVED ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE, AND WHAT ROLE HAS YOUR COLLECTION PLAYED IN THIS EVOLUTION?

BD: I would say that the perception of Arab art has evolved significantly on the international stage in recent years. Some key factors that have contributed to this evolution include an increased representation of Arab artists in major international exhibitions and events. There has also been a growing interest from collectors and institutions in acquiring Arab art. The establishment of major art fairs and galleries focused on Arab art, such as Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art, has also been a factor. Of course, the work of organisations like the Dalloul Art Foundation and the Barjeel Foundation, as well as the major auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams, has all helped to elevate the profile of Arab art and artists on the global stage.

RN: ART CAN BE A POWERFUL AGENT FOR CHANGE. HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED INSTANCES WHERE ARAB ART FROM YOUR COLLECTION HAS PLAYED A ROLE IN RAISING AWARENESS OR ADVOCATING FOR SOCIAL OR POLITICAL CAUSES?

BD: The Dalloul Art Foundation, as a matter of policy, does not advocate for social or political causes. We only advocate for art from the Arab world. The reason we don’t is because Arab art is intrinsically charged, both politically and socially. We let the art speak for itself and we speak on behalf of the art on the global stage.

RN: YOUR COLLECTION SPANS DIFFERENT TIME PERIODS. HOW
DO YOU SEE CONTEMPORARY ARAB ART IN DIALOGUE WITH ITS HISTORICAL COUNTERPARTS, AND WHAT CONNECTIONS CAN BE DRAWN BETWEEN THEM?

BD: The Dalloul Art Foundation’s collection spans from the early 20th century to the present day, giving a broad view of the evolution of Arab art over time. One of the profound ways to connect contemporary Arab art with its historical counterparts is through themes and subject matter. Contemporary Arab artists often draw on historical subjects, such as political revolutions or cultural traditions, in their work. Another way of connecting to history is through the use of mediums and techniques. Contemporary artists often employ traditional techniques, like calligraphy and miniature painting, while also experimenting with new mediums and technologies. Moreover, the context and cultural references embedded in their creations reflect a rich history as well. Contemporary Arab artists often draw on the cultural and historical context of the region, referencing traditional imagery and symbolism in their work.

RN: CAN YOU SHARE YOUR INSIGHTS INTO THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CALLIGRAPHY WITHIN YOUR COLLECTION AND THE BROADER CONTEXT OF ARAB ART?

Abou Sobhi Al Tinawi
Ali Ibn Abu Talib and Al Jinn Master, N.D. 39 x 53 cm DAF Beirut

BD: Calligraphy is a central element of Arab art. and a common thread in the Dalloul Art Foundation’s collection. Calligraphy is significant within this collection, serving as a symbolic representation of language and culture. It is deeply rooted in the Arab world, and has been used for centuries to transmit religious, philosophical, and cultural texts. It also appears as a form of artistic expression. Calligraphers have developed their own distinctive styles and techniques, resulting in a wide range of visual expressions, from highly abstract designs to elaborate, ornate compositions. Additionally, calligraphy can be seen as a reflection of historical and cultural influences. The collection showcases the diversity of calligraphic styles from different regions and eras, reflecting the cultural exchanges and influences that have shaped Arab art.

Some examples of such artworks that display calligraphy as a representation of symbolism, artistic expression and a reflection of history are the following artists: Rachid Koraichi, El Seed, Nja Mahdaoui, Mohammed Khadda, Maha Malluh, Dia al-Azzawi, Moustapha Akrim, Mahmoud Hammad, Mahjoub Ben Bella, Samir Sayegh, Jumana El Husseini, Etel Adnan, Hamed Abdalla, Jamal Badran, Khaled Ben Slimane, Adel Megdiche, Mohammed Chebaa, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Ahmad Moualla, Abou Sobhi Al Tinawi, Shaker Hassan Al Said, Jamil Hammoudi, and Nejib Belkhodja to name a few.

Etel Adnan, Zikr, 1998. 24 x 18 cm, 30 pages, Dimension (Open): 24.3 x 541.5 cm DAF Beirut

RN: ARE THERE ANY EMERGING ARTISTS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST THAT YOU FIND PARTICULARLY INTRIGUING OR PROMISING, AND WHY?

BD: I could write an entire issue about emerging artists from the Arab world I find particularly intriguing and probably not include all those who are deserving, but there is one young Syrian artist I am particularly fond of, who has yet to make it into the DAF collection, Anas Albraehe.

RN: ART OFTEN TRANSCENDS LANGUAGE BARRIERS. HOW HAVE YOU SEEN ARAB ART COMMUNICATE ACROSS CULTURES AND CONNECT WITH PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS?

HyperFocal: 0

BD: Art is truly a universal language. Arab art, in particular, is a great example of how art can transcend cultural barriers and connect people from different backgrounds. Arab art communicates across cultures through universal themes and symbols. It often deals with universal human experiences, such as love, loss, and hope, which resonate with people from all backgrounds. Arab art also connects through visual beauty. The intricate designs, vibrant colours, and attention to detail in Arab art are often universally appreciated for their aesthetic value. In addition, communication can be extended through personal and emotional expression. Arab art often conveys the artist’s personal experiences and emotions, which can be relatable and impactful to people from all cultures.

RN: COULD YOU SHARE YOUR INSIGHTS INTO THE ROLE OF STORYTELLING WITHIN ARAB ART AND HOW NARRATIVES ARE CONVEYED THROUGH THE ARTWORKS IN YOUR COLLECTION?

Maha Malluh, Food for Thought, 2012. 60 x 100 x 8 cm
DAF Beirut

BD: Absolutely! Storytelling is a major theme in Arab art, and the Dalloul collection includes many works that showcase the power of storytelling. One example is done through miniatures and illuminated manuscripts. These traditional art forms often tell stories from religious texts, folklore, or historical events, and often include intricate illustrations that bring the stories to life. Ceramics and textiles also have a story to tell. These mediums often incorporate intricate designs that narrate cultural traditions and historical events. Additionally, many Arab artists use their contemporary work to tell personal stories, often drawing on political, social, and cultural issues.

RN: IN YOUR OPINION, HOW HAS THE PERCEPTION OF ARAB ART CHANGED WITHIN THE MIDDLE EAST ITSELF, AND HOW HAS YOUR FOUNDATION CONTRIBUTED TO THIS SHIFT?

BD: There has been a marked interest in art from the Arab world in the past few years. It’s evident in the increased number of exhibitions, galleries, and art initiatives sprouting in the region. The Dalloul Art Foundation, with its extensive collection and dedicated efforts in art preservation, has taken a central role in this shift. The foundation has been fielding loan requests on a weekly basis as a result. By making these artworks accessible to the public and actively engaging in dialogues, partnerships, and educational programs, we’ve not only preserved but also amplified the voice of Arab artists. This has, in turn, reshaped perceptions and fostered a renewed sense of pride and understanding of our shared artistic heritage.

RN: HOW DO YOU FOSTER INNOVATION AND EXPERIMENTATION WITHIN ARAB ART, AND WHAT ROLE DO CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS PLAY IN PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF TRADITION?

BD: At the Dalloul Art Foundation, we believe in the power of innovation and the importance of pushing artistic boundaries. We encourage innovation and the use of new materials by providing platforms for artists to showcase their work. By promoting a culture of continuous learning and exploration, we help artists to get out of their comfort zones and challenge traditional norms. Contemporary artists, with their fresh perspectives and diverse influences, play a crucial role in this. They are the torchbearers of evolution in the art world, blending tradition with modernity, and old with new. Through their imaginative creations, they question societal norms, challenge conventions, and offer fresh interpretations, thereby ensuring that Arab art remains dynamic, relevant, and reflective of the changing times.

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