‘L’Art Blesse’ Helps us to Understand How The Beirut Blast Affected Art

Walking in to Villa Audi, it’s like time has stood still since the Aug. 4 blast. Cracked mirrors in doors fracture what little light enters around thick black curtains. The chandelier that fell during the explosion remains on the floor.

The most notable difference is that now over 60 artworks cover the two-floor villa, as part of “L’Art Blesse” (The Wounded Art), a new exhibition curated by Jean-Louis Mainguy.

“The exhibition is a mix of all the paintings and sculptures that were affected by Aug. 4, while giving a chance for artists who created after the blast, to have a place for us to understand how the blast affected their art,” Mainguy told The Daily Star. “The emotion is the real thing we have to think about when we go through this exhibition. Some didn’t want to alter their work but some, like Tom Young, took their art to someone to recreate the piece into something commemorative, a very personal decision.”

Some of the pieces remain untouched since the blast, while some have been repaired in a way that makes the scars a new part of the artwork. Others, on the second floor, were created in response to the devastation.

Young’s canvases and been loosely stitched with gold thread, showing the tears. Two multiply ripped paintings by Andy Llanes Bulto have had fairy lights poked into the holes, as well as tags with QR codes added. When scanned, videos created by Carlos Massoud – an intervention commissioned by the painting’s owner – play video footage of the blast and the damage it caused.

Two sculptures by Katya Traboulsi, inspired by ancient Greco-Roman busts destroyed by Daesh [ISIS] in Iraq in 2015, were cracked open by the blast. A traditional white replica from her studio and a bright blue-and-gold pop art version that were smashed are on show, left in pieces.

“This [blue] one was made in 2015 and the subject of that exhibition, I felt, fitted this one,” Traboulsi told The Daily Star. “[Daesh] destroyed many artifacts in Iraq and I made this piece to say that history cannot be erased even if they destroy it. The piece will talk and rise again.

“Even destroyed, each piece here tells more about the moment the painter did it and a moment in our history that was so powerful and emotional that we can see the power of the event in these art pieces. It has a new layer and story to tell,” she added. “There is more beauty in it, in the ugliness of the thing, which is amazing. I’ll never fix them as I want them to tell the story. I’ll never forget what happened, nor will any Lebanese. We should keep traces of it. It’s part of us now.”

Similarly left unrepaired are two metal sculptures titled “Peace” and “Entangled Love” by Nayla Romanos Iliya, from the “Phoenician Alphabet” series, which now betray scratches and dents in the curving steel and copper lines.


“The way they were damaged is what made me not what to repair them,” Romanos Iliya told The Daily Star. “They were both in the lobby of Le Gray hotel and both fell on the floor and what struck me was that ‘Entangled Love’ has minor scratches on the surface, as if it was wounded more on the inside than the outside.

“The other is a totally different case. It was much lighter in structure, because peace is so fragile,” she added. “When it was in good shape it was talking about peace on Earth with a spherical shape and now, with the damage, it really shows the point of how important it is to keep peace alive and how easy it is break.”

Among the works that have emerged in the blast’s aftermath are nine muted paintings by Nabil Nahas showing the destroyed streets and people’s reactions. Hady Sy is showing a sculpture titled “Beirut,” made with the numbers 6:09, the time of the blast, with a more hopeful interpretation.

“When I looked at my watch after the blast and someone close to me was injured, this is the time I saw,” Sy said. “If you look at it head on, you see the numbers, but as you circle it, it changes and tells us what the Lebanon of the future could be again: feminine, beautiful, elegant and solid.

“The more angles you look at it from, the more it reveals about the different sides of Beirut. Whenever I visited a new city, I always had this thought of, ‘Is this city male or female?’ and I always thought Beirut is a strong and elegant woman,” he added. “She can be sweet but can also be violent and I explored this in the sculpture. When researching online, I found that 609 is the number of the angels, of all the good energy, and thought I can’t do better than that.”

Music and poetry also play a part in the show, with classical and oriental music composed by Lebanese greats wafting through the halls. Poems placed alongside many of the works reflect their themes.

“We have classical and oriental Lebanese music from the likes of Georges Baz, Toufic Succar and others who truly captured the soul of traditional Lebanese music [that] people might have forgotten about,” Mainguy said. “We need to have an act of memory with this blast. We must remember but we must preserve what was damaged and what was forgotten – all the people who built the cultural scene of Lebanon over these years.”

Many galleries and studios reside in Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, where many more artists had their works stored or on show on Aug. 4. The cultural sector has been recovering slowly since then, with some galleries reopening and artists holding shows related to the aftermath of the blast. Many are adamant to never forget, while moving forward.

“L’Art Blesse” is on at Villa Audi, Ashrafieh, until Jan. 16, 2021.

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