A legacy in progress
Nadine Begdache talks to Artscoops about her two-fold role archiving Beirut’s artistic past and promoting its future.
Jamil Molaeb, Shear Sheeps, 2008, Pastel on canvas, 70 x 50 cm
Beirut has long enjoyed its status as a leading hub for the arts, although competition today from other regional players is fiercer than ever before.
Domestic ups and downs have also affected Lebanon’s art scene over the years. Yet Beirut takes such challenges in its stride, overcoming them time and again with characteristic resilience.
Nadine Begdache, the owner of Beirut-based Galerie Janine Rubeiz, believes Lebanon’s rich history, including its “political and economic burdens” has, if anything, helped the country to strengthen its position as a pioneer in the Arab art world.
“Despite everything that Beirut experiences, it still remains a centre for creativity; after all art is borne out of exposure,” she notes. “Our past civilisations have taught us the art of trading and have opened our eyes to the world, making us even keener to give and take on the global stage.”
In 1976, Mme Begdache witnessed first-hand a demonstration of the country’s commitment to the arts in the face of adversity when Dar El Fan, the cultural space run by her late mother, Janine Rubeiz, was destroyed by war.
Despite the setback, Mme Rubeiz continued to hold exhibitions, film screenings and lectures at her private residence, where Mme Begdache recalls crowded scenes and a mood of “positive energy”. “The people of Ras Beirut had a clear vision of what they wanted Beirut to be,” she says. “Passion and optimism filled the rooms, with the lectures and film screenings provoking ideas for the future of Beirut.”
Charles Khoury, Untitled, 2015, Acrylic on jute, 100 x 200 cm
Mme Begdache believes strongly that the arts are a reflection of a society’s journey, mirroring its culture. “Through their artwork, Lebanese artists unanimously sent a message of peace for the future of a changing and growing Lebanon,” she notes.
An element of that future is still being shaped today, decades on, at Galerie Janine Rubeiz, where Mme Begdache continues her mother’s legacy, while promoting Modern and Contemporary Lebanese art.
These are exciting times for Galerie Janine Rubeiz, with fresh talent leading something of an artistic revival. Zad Moultaka, one of the gallery’s artists, will be representing Lebanon at the Venice Biennale, which marks a major milestone for both the gallery and the country.
Mme Begdache explains that when it comes to presenting, promoting and representing artists, Galerie Janine Rubeiz’s primary focus remains “quality and excellence”.
Dalia Baassiri, The Curtain, 2015, Led plexi lightbox, charcoal on plexi, 10 x 60 x 90 cm
However, aware that audiences are becoming increasingly demanding, she keeps pace with the evolving cultural scene by seeking out new artists from time to time who are “usually young with strong conceptual themes and messages”.
“The initial choice is always the quality of the work itself. Then affinities grow as we get to know the artist,” she explains. “These conditions carry the work, artist and the gallery onwards and open the debate on the local, regional and international Fine Art platforms.”
Hanibal Srouji, Into The Clouds, 2015, Acrylic fire on canvas, 130 x 200 cm
While Galerie Janine Rubeiz has premiered many leading international artists, Mme Begdache says the discovery of the late, great French artist Jean Giraud (Moebius), who was known for his cartoons, remains firmly etched in her memory.
The gallery owner explains that she got to know Giraud through her son, who became familiar with the artist’s work while studying architecture in France. Giraud exhibited his cartoons in Beirut after Galerie Janine Rubeiz invited Tarazi Library to join it in setting up the project. Along with other artists, Giraud also met some 350 students from across Lebanon.
“At that time, cartoonists weren’t really regarded as artists, but that project helped to raise the standard of what we perceive as art,” she notes. “Today, as we know, cartoonists’ sketches are sold at world-famous auctions houses.”
While Mme Begdache’s personal preference is abstract art, she is also looking for pieces with staying power. “Whenever I fall in love with a piece, it is not only about the love in the present, but love that will last over the years,” she says. “I love art that provokes an emotion in me that lasts and that infatuates me every time.”
The gallery owner explains that she is also working on a project that includes archiving the works of Dar El Fan, in order to provide the younger generation with a clear history of Beirut’s recent cultural history.
“During the 1960s and 1970s, my mother created a renaissance in art and culture,” she says. “Through this gallery I strive to prove that the Golden Age of Beirut is still very much alive.”