1980s: Representational Pressures, Departures, and Beginnings
LAWHA has organised a panel at the forthcoming conference on the 1980s on 3-5 November 2022 at the University of North Texas, Denton.
It is organised by the Office of the President and Department of Art History, University of North Texas; al Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art, NYU Abu Dhabi; Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA).
Conference Committee: Nada Shabout, Salwa Mikdadi, Sarah Rogers, Anneka Lenssen, Pamela Karimi, and Jessica Gerschultz.
In addition, Flavia Malusardi is taking part in the Graduate Student Workshop on 3 November 2022.
LAWHA PANEL – Lebanon’s Art World at Home and Abroad in the 1980s: Artistic production and reception in times of war
The 1980s in Lebanon were marked by the ups and downs of its civil war that had started in April 1975 and lasted throughout the decade with varying intensity. Artistic production and exhibition practices have largely been overlooked for this period, partly due to the effort required in tracking down sources. While the circumstances of the war forced some exhibition spaces to close and artists to migrate, the 1980s also saw cultural infrastructures and artists adapting to the evolving context, and some new spaces and art practices emerge. This panel, proposed within the frame of the research project LAWHA – “Lebanon’s Art World at Home and Abroad: Trajectories of artists and artworks in/from Lebanon since 1943”, focuses on the experience of Lebanon’s artists and the art world during the 1980s. It questions how the political, social and economic environment impacted day-to-day artistic production and reception. One concern of LAWHA is to rethink the conventional periodization of Lebanon’s history into the “golden age” leading up to the civil war, the period of the civil war, and post-war period starting in the 1990s. In this panel, the nuances of artistic production and its reception throughout the 1980s will be analyzed by interrelating context and artistic production. Whereas the so-called post-war generation of artists engaged extensively with the aftermath and memory of the war, in the midst of it artists had different approaches in their engagement.
Monique Bellan (LAWHA/Max Weber Stiftung): Continuity and Beginnings? Reading Lebanon’s 1980s art exhibitions through the press
Little attention has been paid to the development of the art scene in Lebanon in the 1980s, leaving an art historical gap vis-à-vis this period. Amidst the civil war, this decade is usually considered a transitional phase with little to no artistic activities and exhibitions. By the end of the 1970s, many galleries had moved from Beirut to the Northern coastal areas, others had closed for good, and a few relocated abroad. In the two decades leading up to the civil war, Beirut and more precisely the Hamra neighborhood, had a vivid gallery scene with numerous exhibitions opening every week. They were regularly covered in the local Arabic, English, and French language newspapers and magazines catering to the various Lebanese readerships. This continued during the decade of the 1980s, however at less intensity, following the rhythm of the war. The paper looks at exhibition activities during the 1980s through press reviews and invitation cards of galleries, attempting to draw a more differentiated picture of this time. Of particular interest are new spaces outside Beirut such as DAMO Gallery in Antelias. The focus is twofold: First, who were the journalists writing about art and how did they present the artists and their exhibitions? What kind of aesthetic considerations, if any, did they convey to their readers? To what extent did the context of war play a role in their analysis? Second, who were the artists exhibiting during this decade, and in which spaces? To what extent was there continuity and where can we see new beginnings? What can we read when reading the press clippings?
Çiğdem İvren (LAWHA/Max Weber Stiftung): Off the Mainstream: War motifs and the medium of printmaking
In 1982, artist Jamil Molaeb exhibited 34 woodcut prints that documented life in times of the Lebanese civil war at Galerie Epreuve d’Artiste in West Beirut – labeled by art critics as the first exhibition of its kind in Lebanon. Artistic explorations of wartime events are certainly nothing new. In Molaeb’s case, however, it is the combination of the motif as well as the technique that makes this exhibition noteworthy. The 1980s were arguably one of the most eventful decades in Lebanon’s history, marked by massacres, bombings and kidnappings. Despite the adversities, this did not mean that cultural life came to a complete standstill. Some galleries and art platforms were forced to shut down, but others, such as Galerie Epreuve d’Artiste, opened during the war in 1979 and played a major role in the cultural field. Initially on a mission to introduce international prints to the Lebanese art scene, the founders soon realized that there was little interest in prints, especially from foreign artists. Gradually, the gallery began to show mainly works by local artists, adapting to the public’s demand for prevailing trends such as abstraction and landscape painting. Molaeb’s woodcuts stood in stark contrast to popular genres that were well received by the public and profitable for galleries. Through the perspectives of both the gallery and the artist, this paper explores connections between the aesthetics of black and white prints and the representation of war motifs in the context of Lebanese art in the 1980s. It argues that the political and social involvement expressed in war motifs in Lebanese art is linked to the aesthetics of print making and graphic design. War themed prints, newspapers, and political posters shaped much of the visual culture of everyday life in war torn Lebanon. This linkage resulted in a lack of interest in this art genre on the art market and caused a forcible return of artists and galleries to the mainstream.
Jessica Gerschultz (University of Kansas): “When the Wood is Fragrant, the Bond is Stronger”: Tapestry and Lebanon (late 1970s-1980s)
In mid-twentieth century Lebanon, artistic experimentation with modernist tapestry both led to collaborations between painters and weavers and prompted personal explorations with looms. Artists such as Simone Baltaxé-Martayan, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Aref Rayess, Georgette Saliba, Odette Falaize, Dale Egee, and Roger Caron worked with weavers in Zouk Mikhael, Aïnab, Nabha, Kab Elias, and other sites to create monumental, at times three-dimensional works; these collaborative processes drew together artists of various nationalities, cultural backgrounds, social classes, and religious affiliations. Others, like Dadi Muleta, Paul Wakim, and Shafic Abboud, conceived and executed their own compositions on looms they constructed. The tapestries circulated in exhibitions in Lebanon and abroad, as well as entering private and diplomatic collections. The onset of civil war slowed this aesthetic engagement with fiber and looms. However, tapestry weaving did not abruptly end after 1975 even if this inherently international movement faded in subsequent memory. My presentation will explore the trajectory of tapestry as a medium in the late 1970s and 1980s. After a brief introduction, it will consider what happened to artistic engagements with fiber and loom-making in a period of war. I will examine how, for some artists, weaving (including the preparation of raw materials and tools) assumed new physical, sensory, and poetic possibilities.
Nadia von Maltzahn (LAWHA/Orient-Institut Beirut): Fadi Barrage: “To think things out in painting”
In a diary entry in early October 1982, Lebanese artist Fadi Barrage (1940-1988) notes how he was starting to feel some kind of peace in his Athens’ home, after a number of restless years between Beirut, Alexandria, Istanbul and finally Athens, following the destruction of his studio in Downtown Beirut seven years earlier. He reflects on “the necessity to think things out in painting”, settling on “some approach to things, to the materials, the manner, the matter of [his] life.” His serenity was to be short-lived, as he was forced to leave Greece in 1985 and sailed to Cyprus, where he embarked on a sequence of drawings around the Odyssey. Weakened by illness, he returned to Lebanon in 1987 where he died the next year. Drawing on the artist’s diary entries from the early 1980s, drawings, sketches and an unpublished manuscript by one of his close friends, this paper explores how the context of exile and building transient homes affected Barrage’s artistic production, and to what extent his home city of Beirut and the early stages of war he witnessed continued to be present in his work and thinking. “To think things out in painting” infers a direct relationship between the subjects preoccupying the painter and what he depicts in his drawings and paintings. Barrage was confronted with societal pressures throughout his life not least due to his sexual orientation, and painting for him also became a kind of refuge. It was a process through which he came to terms with reality or escaped it. In this paper, I will also touch on the notions of friendship and its role in bringing an artist’s memory to life.