Lebanese Pavilion reveals theme “The World in the Image of Man” for 59th International La Biennale di Venezia

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During a press conference organized at the Sursock Museum, curator of the Lebanese Pavilion Nada Ghandour announced the theme of the Lebanese Pavilion; The World in the Image of Man, which aims to illustrate the perpetual action of the human imagination on the reality of the world.

Through fiction, the pavilion intends to invite the audience on a symbolic journey into the contemporary world founded on a theme, a city, and two artists, Danielle Arbid and Ayman Baalbaki. Lebanon has been crossed by both tradition and modernity, a hub of territorial challenge. This geographically small country acts as a pivotal point between the East and the West, repeatedly suffering from being the receptacle of a panoply of tensions.

By Kim Makhlouf

The 2021 Lebanese Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia , HW Architects

In the last three years, Lebanon has been grappling with unprecedented political, social and economic crises in all its sectors, as its people fight to regain power in their martyred city of Beirut, and the rest of the country that has drowned in darkness. 

According to the curator of the Lebanese Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition, Nada Ghandour, this artistic project is not only influenced by Lebanon’s current socio-economic and political climate, but also aims to further this discussion on a global frame through artistic reflection and creation, as Arbid and Baalbaki center their artwork around the polysemic urban character of Beirut. 

Danielle Arbid is a French-Lebanese filmmaker and artist who left Lebanon at the height of the Civil War in 1987, at the young age of 17. In France, she studied literature at a faculty of letters and later journalism before she began dabbling in the film world. Having no background in film studies, Arbid attributes her stylistic inspiration from art, photography, people in the streets and, namely, other films and filmmakers. 

Since she began directing in 1997, Arbid’s films have received numerous accolades internationally. For this exhibition, she will be presenting a short film titled Allô Chérie, a project that is part of her My Lebanese Family series. 

In this creation, [the main] character, my mother, is a mirror image of Lebanon; [embodying the country] with [her] fatalistic mentality, appetite for risk taking, and exuberance. She is caught in a frantic pursuit for money, [as we see] a car [driving] through Beirut. [My mother’s] struggle is inseparable from the violence that prevails today in Lebanon, as was the case in other countries, in Europe and elsewhere,” explained Arbid. 

Arbid’s video rejoins through its shots Baalbaki’s work; an installation titled Janus Gate, which similarly portrays the contradictions and difficulties plaguing the country. 

Ayman Baalbaki is a Lebanese painter, known for his large-scale expressionist portraits depicting warriors symbolic of seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East. Born in the same year Lebanon’s Civil War began, Baalbaki’s projects often illustrate the woes and aftermath of war. His installations have similarly garnered  worldwide attention, one of which will be showcased alongside Arbid’s film

My starting point was Beirut, which I see as a city rich in what Michel Foucault refers to as ‘other spaces.’ Along the model of the word ‘Lebanonization,’ meant to describe the fragmentation of a state, ‘Beirutization’ defines places troubled by barricades and borders – in other words, to speak of the urban dismemberment of a city and its fragmentation into discrete islands,” explained Baalbaki. 

I then thought of Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks both to the inside and to the outside, to the past and to the future. I built a 3D structure in which two spaces coexist: a radiant exterior space and an interior one similar to all the slums in the world.

Placed under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and organized by the Lebanese Visual Art Association (LVAA), the Lebanese Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2022 will present the works of Arbid – from the diaspora and based in Paris – and Baalbaki – who lives and works in Beirut – with scenography conceived by Aline Asmar d’Amman, architect and founder of Culture in Architecture.

The exhibition The World in the Image of Man is taking place in one of the halls of the Venetian Arsenal, a classified historical monument, as the Pavilion’s scenography answers to the curatorial notion of dialogue, which Ghandour says is a central idea within this project.

Echoing the works by Arbid and Baalbaki, architect Asmar d’Amman suggests a wander through the heart of Lebanon. “[The setting] takes the form of a brutalist elliptical shell evoking the eternal wish for rebirth and unity. The surrounding geometric form invites the works to engage in a dialogue of truths, facing each other, shortening the distances, as if engaged in an innate and natural conversation,” she revealed. 

Lebanon’s Pavilion encompasses raw architecture and recalls the shapes of contemporary ruins of the county’s urban landscape: Joseph Philippe Karam’s downtown cinema ‘The Egg’ and Oscar Niemeyer’s ‘Rashid Karamé International Exhibition’ building in Tripoli. 

This scenographic setting of approximately 150 square meters derives from the brutalist architecture that flourished in Lebanon as of the 1960s, but through the eyes of both artists. The facade is covered with curved panels coated in a concrete texture, evoking the city, under permanent construction. The oculus of the pavilion opens onto the framework of the Venetian roof, as an invitation to draw the gaze upwards. 

Open to visitors on April 23, 2022, the exhibition is set to remain open until Nov. 27 of the same year.