Pegged as one of the biggest showcase of modern and contemporary art from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, Beirut is gearing up for a high-profile opening. It is only in this venue that you can find a celebration of artistic expression at its best. You can witness legendary works by iconic artists like Charles Khoury and Paul Guiragossian alongside the feminist voice of Zoulikha Bouabdellah or a critique of society through the comic art of Mohamed El Sharkawi.

Untitled by Marwan Kassab Bachi, 2009

Showcasing artists from Morocco to Indonesia, the Beirut Art Fair is all set to take off on July 5 at the Beirut International Exhibition Leisure Center (BIEL). The myriad themes of oneness and the notions of otherness are addressed through the most cutting edge art across the region.

The region’s appetite for good art is growing and that is evident in the fair’s third edition. The show is bigger, better and appears to be more promising than its previous editions. The fair will showcase works of 500 artists and 40 top-notch galleries from 13 different countries.

Previously known as ME.NA.SA. Art Fair, the fair’s new name reflects Beirut’s reemergence as an art hub and attracts some of the best galleries in the world, along with curators, collectors and critics from far and wide.

This year, the event brings together a body of fresh, stimulating and innovative artwork ranging from comic art to fine art. The galleries are showcasing an array of paintings, videos, comics, photographs, sculptures and installations which will provide a rich and unique experience for visitors. There will be an amazing number of participants from either established or emerging artists.

Cocotte by Jowhara Al Saud, 2010

Saudi-born artist Jowhara Al Saud, represented by Athr Gallery, continues to provoke and challenge with her compelling narratives. Her work addresses censorship in Saudi Arabia. Al Saud impeccably preserves the anonymity of her subjects by obliterating their facial features, a style she calls ‘face off art.’

You can explore the resounding allure of some innovative art at the booth of a young gallery, Art Chowk Gallery (Dubai/Pakistan). In an interview, the gallery shed light on the work of their artists.

Artist Simeen Farhat’s installations take their origins from the calligraphic legacy of South Asia and the Middle East. “The deconstructed text, based on Urdu, Persian and English poetry, morphs into a sensory experience as she manipulates its form and structure. While not a calligrapher, she has merged the Muslim passions for poetry and the carved text into sculptural, often explosive installations, which retain the delicate fragility of traditional calligraphy.”

Simeen Farhat has recently been chosen by the office of the Mayor of London and the Olympic Committee for the BT Art Box Project to create a public installation in London phone booths, commemorating the Queen’s jubilee and 2012 London Olympics.

Another surprise at the event is the work of Asif Ahmed. Ahmed is a miniaturist who balances the graceful precision of miniature painting with exploration of scale, composition and subject that is rooted in the present.

Her Tears Resembled the Morning Dew by Zara Mahmood, Acrylic, 2012

The gallery is also showcasing some emotionally charged works by artist Zara Mahmood. The gallery says that her recent series was inspired by a terrorist attack on a naval base in Karachi that fatally wounded a bridal party. The artist uses jewelry as a metaphor for the woman, decorating it with fruit (her lost fertility) and shrapnel (the refuse of warfare), to depict the loss created by the violence. Zara won the Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award, 2011 in the UAE, and is adjunct faculty at the American University in Dubai. In addition, the gallery will also be showing some stellar works by Aamir Habib, and Syed Faraz Ali.

One of the most interesting aspects of the event perhaps is a performance staged by a group of Lebanese artists, Ashekman. Other attractions include the works of Yazan Halwani, whose street pieces are characterized by their complexity and their size.

Wall Mad by Mohamad Abdallah, 2012

Continuing in the same vein, the Video Box will showcase works by Shirin Abu Shaqra from Lebanon-Canada, Ali Cherri from Lebanon, Halida Boughriet from Algeria and Qiu Zhijie from China.

Additionally, talks by artists and art critics are expected to draw huge interest. Laure d’Hauteville, Founder and Beirut Art Fair Manager says the fair is a showcase for art, culture, liberty of expression and a unique place for exchange of ideas.

It is indeed a very exciting time to be in Beirut. The event is a great opportunity to see fresh work and new talent under one roof. Not only will you meet artists from across the region, but will also be a part of the festive celebration of art, life and culture.

The Beirut Art fair runs from July 5 to July 8 at BIEL. For more information, visit www.beirut-art-fair.com

– Deepa Pant

Images courtesy of Beirut Art Fair and the Galleries

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