Characterized by a long history of mutual cooperation and influence, the artistic relationship between Spain and Lebanon runs deep.
Villa Audi’s newest exhibit, “De lumière et de sang” (“Of light and blood”), continues this tradition, but with one unique caveat. By sending Spanish artists to Lebanon and their Lebanese counterparts to Iberia, this project invites spectators to reflect on the results of walking in another’s shoes.
Organized by the Spanish Embassy, “De lumière” also presents a mix of mediums, including paintings, drawings and photography. Placed alongside one another, the eclectic selection addresses a wide variety of themes, from adept social and political commentary to insightful meditations on nature, the industrial world and the pace of life.
As would be expected, participating Spanish artists placed Lebanon’s tumultuous political and social history front-and-center in their submissions. A fixation on these themes can be seen in powerful photographs from Alfonso Moral, Ferran Quevedo and Guillem Valle.
Moral, an award-winning Spanish photographer, contributed shots from his “Lebanon: Between Sea and Fire” photo series, taken during a 2006 trip to the region. Moral’s compelling images brilliantly play with light, shadows and reflections.
In one of the most powerful pieces in the exhibition, Moral captures a child peering indirectly through a glass car window, staring forlornly into space. In the same frame, the glass of the window pane reflects the passing streets of Beirut. Though the image captures a static moment, it suggests to the viewer the intensity of Beirut life zooming past.
Meanwhile, Quevado and Valle’s images of a Hezbollah rally marking the death of fallen fighters also capture a somber moment, giving expression to the depth of emotion displayed on participants’ faces.
While the Spanish artists’ dramatization of political themes provides perhaps the most forceful imagery, the Lebanese artists on display offer equally potent social commentary. Randa Mirza of Beirut contributes powerful images from her Barcelona series. In one, entitled “Hidden Harbor,” Mirza elegantly captures the harbor of Barcelona, contrasting its shimmering water with a dark sky, evoking the power of the industrial port.
Barcelona’s combination of natural and architectural beauty with its frenetic and industrial qualities also provided inspiration for Joe Kesrouani’s work, as the Beirut-based architect, artist and photographer astutely focuses his lens on seemingly innocuous yet strangely evocative subjects.
Kesrouani’s stark, black-and-white images portray the shadows of pedestrians strolling the city’s pavements in one image, next to another depicting a circular piece of sky breaking through a sphere of tall buildings. A look through the series conjures the texture and atmosphere of a beautiful but intensely-paced city.
While photography dominates the show, a room of paintings and sketches by prominent Lebanese artists does not disappoint. Amine Bacha contributes a series of playful watercolors, depicting images of boats and pedestrians strolling, allowing an acknowledged influence of Spanish masters Velasquez and Goya to mingle with her perspective.
The intent of the exhibition is perhaps best demonstrated by the works of Rafic Charaf, a prolific Lebanese artists born in 1932 in Baalbek. Charaf contributes a series of cubist-inspired masterpieces, painted during and after the time he spent studying in Spain after being awarded a scholarship in 1956.
Charaf, the son of a blacksmith who went on to achieve global prominence as an artistic pioneer, covers a range of themes – from contemporary political issues to the social struggles of his native Baalbek, to folk art and poetry. Selected pieces of Charaf’s oeuvre, however, best exemplify the exhibit’s overall message: both regions’ mutual respect and impact continues to this day.
De Lumière et de Sang is at La Villa Audi until July 10.