A week before the blast that destroyed Galerie Tanit and killed several residents of the building, Lebanese artists Abed Al Kadiri was enjoying the success of his latest show “Remains of the Last Red Rose.”
The paintings, mostly black with touches of color, were a reflection of the dark cloud hanging over the lives of many Lebanese, following months of popular protests, economic collapse and COVID-19.
“The idea was that if the world was a dark place, Beirut was its epicenter,” Kadiri said. “The gallery was trying to reopen the season with my show, after the pandemic lockdown and everything that was happening. It was an amazing opening and things were great and then the explosion hit.
“We’d only just started saying there was still hope and color behind the black surface of my paintings,” he added, “so I felt the need to do something, anything, to not leave the gallery that had presented my work like this: empty and ruined.”
Kadiri’s paintings and the walls they hung on were blown apart in the Aug. 4 explosion. Now a new project has taken shape in the remains of the gallery.
“Today, I Would Like to be a Tree” attempts to counter the devastation around it and pay tribute to Jean-Marc Bonfils — the architect of the gallery’s home, the East Village Building — who died in the blast.
“This body of work is first and foremost a tribute to the memory of the architect, our friend, Jean-Marc Bonfils,” Kadiri said. “He played a major role reviving Lebanon’s heritage, and built landmarks in our beloved Beirut. It is also a tribute to all the people and friends who fell victim to this massacre.
“The explosion has left us broken, mourning our losses,” he added. “Most strenuous of all is how, in a matter of seconds, this event robbed, or even worse, annihilated the dreams of a nation — mine included — as we witnessed our capital reduced to rubble. [My project] is an attempt to overcome.”
On the gallery’s remaining walls Kadiri has started painting two large murals, depicting a gray scale forest, sectioned into 80 cardboard panels. Each panel will be available for purchase starting at $500, to raise money for BASSMA, an NGO helping people rebuild their homes in areas most affected by the blast.
“This project’s primary goal is to help, using the skills I have, and the thing I know how to do. The prices are almost 70 percent less than a gallery price, because we want to make sure we can gather a modest amount, hopefully collecting $40,000-50,000, depending on what we raise,” Kadiri said. “The price starts at $500 but people can give more if they want. Every person will choose a number which corresponds to one of the panels … and will have a piece of a larger whole.”
The process, which he aims to complete in about 10 days, has been cathartic to Kadiri, who is still trying to come to terms with the blast’s destruction of some the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The imagery of trees is reminiscent of the greenery that covered Bonfils’ building, but also echoes the healing power of nature and its ability to regrow in even the most devastated places.
“This landscape will metamorphose onto the walls of Galerie Tanit. I will be drawing trees — the trees of Beirut, the trees of my utopic dreams, the trees of change,” Kadiri said. “A landscape of trees — serene and unflinching — stands as a counterforce to the conquering shocks that wrought their stinging havoc. The tree endures. And by enduring, heals.”
Kadiri’s murals will be on show at Galerie Tanit, Mar Mikhael until Sept. 25. To purchase a piece of the mural, visit iwouldiketobeatree.com