LAWHA at DOT2022 in Berlin

The LAWHA Team is participating with two interventions at the Deutscher Orientalistentag in Berlin this September


When: Tuesday, 13 September, 9-11am
Where: FU Berlin, Rost-und Silberlaube, Room Bangkok (JK 27/106)

Lebanon is regularly portrayed as a country with weak public institutions but a vibrant cultural sector. This panel explores some of the cultural infrastructures that have contributed to the making of Lebanon’s art world in the twentieth century, focusing in particular on the period between early independence and the end of the civil war. It looks at the forces that have shaped the emergence of a professional field of art in Lebanon by analysing a range of formal and informal spaces that have played a role in the evolution of art in Lebanon. These spaces often served as places of encounter and exchange, beyond their primary functions of exhibiting or teaching art. As such, they were active catalysts within the intellectual milieus of their time, contributing to the shaping of identity in a young nation. This panel also examines how cultural infrastructures developed and evolved during the civil war (1975-1990). Far from being a grey slab in Lebanon’s art history, the time span of the war saw some new art practices emerge. This panel proposes to rethink the impact of the political, social and economic environment on the art world and its protagonists, and how artists and cultural players in fact shaped their environments.

Artist Studios as Places of Encounter: Georges Cyr and Guvder’s studios in pre-war Beirut (Nadia von Maltzahn/Orient-Institut Beirut)

Painting in Lebanon started to evolve from portraiture and icon painting to include more diverse genres in the early twentieth century. However, Lebanese society did not yet consider being an artist a profession. The fine arts department of the new Académie libanaise des Beaux-Arts was only founded in 1943, there were still few public exhibitions and art criticism was largely nascent. It was into this environment that artist Georges Cyr (1881-1964) arrived in Beirut in 1934. It was said that his studio became a central meeting place for artists and intellectuals, and was regarded to have played an important role in Lebanon’s early art world. Who decided to take up painting and how did the painters end up in Cyr’s studio? In the 1950s, the American University of Beirut set up an art department, the number of exhibitions increased and Beirut was slowly turning into a regional hub for the arts and intellectual life. Between 1963 and 1973, the Armenian painter Guvder (1923-2016) opened an academy of painting in his studio, that served as an important place of learning and encounter. This paper will explore the significance of Cyr and Guvder’s studios in Lebanon’s artistic landscape by looking at the trajectories of a selection of artists who frequented it. Locating the role of the two studios in the artists’ careers enables us to understand in what way the artistic and intellectual exchange that took place in an informal place formed the art world and contributed to the shaping of a profession. 

The Role of Dar el Fan in the Making of Lebanon’s Art World (Flavia Elena Malusardi/Ca’Foscari University of Venice and Orient-Institut Beirut)

The paper explores the cultural panorama in pre-war Lebanon. In particular, it focuses on Dar al-Fann wa al-Adab (House of Art and Literature), a space active in Beirut between 1967 and 1976. Initiated by art advocate Janine Rubeiz with the aim of bringing art closer to the public, Dar el Fan was a hub for creativity and an avant-garde catalyst for artists and intellectuals. Throughout its lifespan, it held around 240 events ranging from music to exhibitions and book presentations. Founded by private initiative, it was unattached to any official body and provided a space for open discussion and creativity. Through the analysis of archival material, interviews with cultural practitioners who collaborated with the space, and the reconstruction of a wider net of linkages between cultural institutions, the paper investigates the understudied role of Dar el Fan in the shaping of Lebanon’s art world. It is argued that the relevance of Dar el Fan extends beyond exhibiting art and supporting culture; it constitutes an arena for understanding the social and historical landscape where a new Lebanese identity was negotiated in the aftermath of colonial rule. Contributing to the writing of the largely unwritten region’s art history, the study indicates a more comprehensive conception of the activity of Dar el Fan.

Art Galleries in Beirut during the 1960s and 1970s: Shaping identity (Monique Bellan/Orient-Institut Beirut/Max Weber Stiftung)

When Gallery One (1963-1976) opened in Beirut, private art galleries were still rare and exhibitions mostly taking place in hotel lobbies, cultural centres, or university art departments. Gallery One, contrary to what the name suggests, was not the first gallery in Beirut, but rather the “first of its kind”. Founded by Helen and Yusuf al-Khal, the gallery focused on Lebanese and Arab artists who were part of a rising art movement. The gallery’s mission was to provide a frame for the increasing artistic production and to introduce artists of various backgrounds and styles to a public that was getting more interested in acquiring artworks. At the same time, the gallery wanted to connect to other art capitals worldwide. As such its identity was clearly rooted in the local and regional artistic production but with an international outreach. The gallery was not only a space for art but for various cultural activities and exchange. Another gallery operating in a similar spirit was Contact Gallery (1972-1975, 1977), founded and run by Waddah Faris, César Nammour, and Mireille Tabet. The featured artists were mainly Lebanese and Arab, who often also exhibited at Gallery One. Contact Gallery was a platform for exchange among artists, writers, and intellectuals. While Gallery One demarcates the beginning of a new era of galleries in Lebanon, Contact Gallery continues these efforts by highlighting “contact” as its driving force. This contribution focuses on galleries as spaces for artistic and intellectual exchange and their role in shaping an avant-gardist Lebanese-Arab identity.

Between Cultural Activism and Commerce: The cultural infrastructure of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War (Çiğdem İvren/Universität Bamberg)

Beirut became known as the “Paris of the Middle East” in the 1960s as cultural activities were on the rise, leading to a series of new openings of galleries and other exhibition platforms. Labelled as the cultural capital of the Arab World, the city experienced the flourishing of Lebanese art and art criticism throughout the 1960s, its so-called “Golden Age”. Despite a growing body of literature on Lebanese art, however, surveys evoke the impression that cultural production came to a halt with the beginning of the civil war in 1975 that had not recovered up to the post-war period of the 1990s. In this paper, I analyse how the Lebanese civil war restricted, re-shaped and nurtured art production in the divided city of Beirut. The main topic of this paper is the reconstruction of the cultural and institutional infrastructure in view of demographic changes during this understudied period. I argue that the relocation and loss of some of the prominent galleries shifted art discourses from the mainly bourgeois commercial spaces to non-commercial and informal spaces. This shift led to the emergence of new media such as installation art and paved the way for conceptualist art practices and public art. This analysis thus forms the foundation for an evaluation of cultural actors and institutions and to what extend they influenced market structures and trajectories in Lebanese art. It is also expected that these insights serve as a basis for further research and reconsideration of post-war art in and from Lebanon.


When: Friday, 16 September 2022, 12.30-1.30pm
Where: FU Berlin, Rost-und Silberlaube, Room Singapore (L 113)

The ERC-funded project LAWHA examines the forces that have shaped the emergence of a professional field of art in Lebanon within its local, regional and global context. The project proposes a shift of perspective in approaching Lebanon’s art world by focusing on the multi-dimensionality of artists’ individual trajectories. To interrelate context and artistic production, one central component of LAWHA is the development of a database and digital platform (DDP), creating a tool and central and open-access repository for future research. This includes building up artists’ dossiers that draw on local and international networks. The DDP will help us in understanding who exhibited with whom and where, how an artist’s productivity interrelated with phases and geographic locations in their life, who the artist interacted with, how artworks circulated (or did not circulate), and how the market has developed. The DDP is guided by the project’s research questions, which revolve around the professionalization of Lebanon’s art sector, the impact of the social, political and economic environment on the art world and its protagonists, how artists are represented in relation to the nation, and the role of women artists and artists of Armenian origin in Lebanon’s art world. It will allow us to trace patterns and networks, and will also highlight debates, criticism and intellectual exchanges on art. The ontology has been developed in cooperation with the University of Bologna’s DH.arc, who have adapted the selected open source software (Omeka S) to LAWHA’s needs. A prototype of the database will be presented.

Cite this blog post
Nadia von Maltzahn (2022, September 11). LAWHA at DOT2022 in Berlin. LAWHA Lebanon's Art World at Home and Abroad. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from

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