Following Aug. 4 blast, Alice Mogabgab Gallery has recently reopened its doors with “The Cedar Being Cut Down!” a 14-artist group show. Spanning 1995 to 2020, the works – sculptures, photographs, drawings and videos – all in some way depict Lebanon’s iconic cedar trees, and their gradual decimation over the last few decades.
Cedars are often emblematic of the country’s strength and resilience in the face of destruction, and this show looks at how artists like Houda Kassatly and Etel Adnan use them in their work, in the context of Lebanon’s crises, recent and less recent.
“It’s almost like a retrospective of exhibitions at the gallery, where trees have always been present,” gallery founder Alice Mogabgab told The Daily Star. “The tree is a very important symbol all over the world, because of global warming etc., but in Lebanon the cedar tree is the only shelter we can use to recover from what’s happening in this crazy country.
“What has happened to our forests over the last 30 years – every year so many of them burning, or being cut down for building projects – is criminal,” she added. “In Lebanon the two things we all agree on are Fairouz and cedar trees, and without trees there is no life possible. We’ve had very few people in power who were aware of its importance. If we don’t do anything to protect them, we will lose the essence of our country.”
With Lebanon’s cedars under increasing threat, Mogabgab has noticed that artists are using the symbol more and more. A wave of art projects about nature has arisen since the forest fires of 2019, which many see as the start of the country’s collapse over the past year.
“All types of artists are using this symbol now and are drawn to it, because we’re at risk of losing them,” Mogabgab said. “The sculpture of Luciano Zanoni, with this beautiful tree growing out from the concrete, symbolizes how trees always find a way to grow, against all odds.
“The photos of Nadim Asfar of the Tannourine cedars are also amazing. They’re like poetry and we can really see how powerful, but also elegant and fragile these cedars are,” she added. “Greenpeace recently released a documentary about the Tannourine cedars because they are sick – lacking water and diseased with parasites. Something needs to be done and these photos create awareness about it.”
Although the Ashrafieh gallery has been repaired, Mogabgab is hesitant to resume normal operations during Lebanon’s financial ruin. She intends to focus her attention on hosting exhibitions with meaning, rather than sales potential.
“I restored and cleaned the gallery, opened again, but I’m not selling and don’t want to sell for the time being with the banking situation,” she said. “I’ll keep showing as much as I can, because I believe in the Lebanese art scene, because we have to change things. We don’t want to be migrants.
“There are photos in the show about migration and this is the worst possible future for us,” she added. “We’ve already experienced this for the 40 years since the Civil War and we’ve never been able to belong to another land. We must stay in our land, like the trees.”
“The Cedar Being Cut Down!” is up at the Alice Mogabgab Gallery, Ashrafieh, until Dec. 31.