Encounters 2023 offers a series of enchanting rendezvous in an unprecedented exhibition. This illustrious event unfurls from the 7th of June to the 14th of July in the august halls of the Janine Rubeiz Gallery.

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It all started with an ingenious brainchild: an art competition spearheaded by the Janine Rubeiz Gallery and conceptualized by curator Manar Ali Hassan. From among 110 contestants, a panel of connoisseurs meticulously selected 25 gifted aspirants.

This transgenerational artistic interchange serves as a conduit for emergent artists from a plethora of backgrounds to unfurl their creativity, drawing inspiration from the oeuvre of distinguished and avant-garde Lebanese maestros such as Etel Adan, Huguette Caland, Laure Ghorayeb, Jamil Molaeb, and Hanibal Srouji, to name a few. By delving into a myriad of poignant issues and themes, the oeuvres establish a dialogue between venerated virtuosos and budding talents while engaging the audience in a rich tapestry of thought and expression.

What ensues is a fervent interaction encompassing contemporary sociopolitical issues such as population movements, exile, identity, environmental depredations, and existential quandaries pertaining to memory and the passage of time. This culminates in a versatile assemblage of testimonies proffered by these promising artists.

This mélange is characterized by abundant creativity, diverse mediums, and audacious, inventive works; conceptual art flourishes, titillating the audience with a wealth of content that resonates by drawing from the past while still maintaining pertinence.

Joanna Raad addresses urban compartmentalization that impedes communication and mobility, whereas Noura Bakkar delves into the tumult of exile, symbolized by passports – the bearers of hope for a more propitious future – adorned with the faces of political figures accountable for incessant transience.

Malak el Sahli investigates the theme of time through photographs of forsaken spaces that seem to be haunted by shadows, and Ségolène Ragu, with her relics of yesteryears, evokes poignant memories.

In another provocative piece, a figure ensnared in a couch, face dissolved, symbolizes being trapped in the past, while the piece adjacent to it, a box brimming with nostalgic memorabilia, appears to be caught in a never-ending loop.

In a distinct approach, the ceramics crafted by Diana Salwan convey a rich cultural heritage, like artifacts of anticipated archaeology or miniature monuments of Lebanese quotidian life. They accentuate symbols imbued with emotions and sensations, such as the jasmine cluster, the hal’oun biscuit, the hanging basket, and the blazing tire.

The artist Chris Assoury, on her part, clings despondently to ephemeral mementos, such as fallen leaves, twigs, or petals, which she affixes to the timeworn armchair of her ancestors as if to crystallize their memory.

Another theme broached is that of embraced identity, symbolized by the untamed tresses of the artist Lama Sfeir. She employs her locks as a medium of expression and creativity, manifesting a repudiation to conform to established norms. With audacity, she foregrounds a characteristic that, although stigmatized, is borne with pride and dignity.

Rami Chahine engages a similar motif utilizing fragments of deceased cedar, arranged on the floor in such a manner as to forge a path punctuated by stages leading to a central core. He portrays a cedar sacrificed and fragmented, which the artist endeavors to rectify with splints, highlighting the artifice. At the trunk’s extremity, a splinter of wood appears to have detached itself and hovers in mid-air, evoking a window ajar to a world of possibilities and interrogations. Is there a need to integrate the schism to forge a distinct identity where tensions and duality are inherent, or should one embrace the tenets of a harmonious coexistence aspiring to sustainability?

For Hala Tawil, the utilization of collages and assemblages of disparate elements symbolizes free will – a challenge to determinism and a means to reweave the threads of a fragmented existence.

The compartmentalized and polluted urban environment is yet another scrutinized theme, notably by Ibrahim Marzouk, who adopts an idealized aerial vantage, and by Gilbert Loutfi, who hosts oriental carpets above rooftops as artistic and cultural standards to veil the city’s concrete expanse.

Nohad El Hajj, on the contrary, embraces Beirut in its entirety. For her, ambling through the city is an integral component of the artistic process, as the streets metamorphose into ever-evolving venues of inspiration, exploration, and discovery – a microcosm of life itself. She engages with a city partitioned, faced with a sky constricted by haughty edifices, sidewalks monopolized by cars, and beaches swallowed by concrete. She raises awareness that jasmine, gardenias, and refuse bins may coexist, yet only the sky remains unblemished.

With Sarah Francis and Malak el Sahli, the artistic experience is lived as a profound connection, an utter surrender, and a receptivity to the universe’s vibrations.

For another artist, hair becomes the paintbrush that she glides across the canvas to the rhythm of her breath and inspiration, in relinquishment and release, a thread reconnecting with her muse.

This exhibition is lived with passion and doesn’t cease to astonish and astound through a maelstrom of talents emanating from a people of boundless resources – a people whose history, as the poet Lamartine proclaimed, “should be sung rather than written, like a perpetually evolving poem.”

Jocelyne Ghannagé