A time to travel

New space artB Dubai to showcase Lebanese talent at launch exhibition 

While no one doubts the wealth of artistic talent found in Lebanon, it’s a sad fact that the economic and humanitarian crisis engulfing the country makes showcasing the local cultural and creative scene to visitors an epic, if not impossible challenge.

Against that backdrop, Jo Hayek, a long-time art lover, collector and filmmaker-producer, has taken the drastic step of setting up a space in Dubai with an opening show dedicated to Lebanese artists, in a bid to keep their work in the spotlight. “The idea is to export this fantastic art to destinations where it can be promoted and appreciated without the difficulties and distractions that unfortunately both artists and audiences currently face in Lebanon,” he explained. 

Named artB Dubai - the B standing for Beirut and bringing art - and created by Jo and his friend Carla Chantiry, a consultant in business development and marketing, the space is located at FLTRD art in the thriving Dubai International Financial Centre district. The opening is planned for November 29 and will take place with a landmark show aptly titled ‘True Colors’, which will run for around six months. The exhibition, Jo explained, will be “a true reflection of our culture represented through the color identity of each Lebanese artist”.

Audiences can look forward to viewing around 130 impressive pieces of work at the launch, created in a rich variety of media by 19 emerging and established Lebanese artists, namely: Jamil Molaeb; Hussein Madi; Hassan Jouni; Silwan Ibrahim; Charles Khoury; Raouf Rifai; Alfred Basbous; Bassam Kyrillos; Hanibal Srouji; Mazen Rifai; Ribal Molaeb; Georges Basil; Fadi El Chamaa; Semaan Khawam; Nevine Mattar; Selim Mawad; Louma Rabah; Ihab Ahmad; and Alain Vassoyan.


Jo’s decision to offer Lebanese artists a dedicated platform abroad for artB Dubai’s launch was fuelled by a feeling that the catastrophic domestic situation had brought the local art and culture scene to its knees. “Lebanon has always been famous for housing a wealth of artistic talent, but events of the past two years have inevitably tarnished its image,” he explained. “As someone with a passion for art, I became tired of waiting for things to improve and, after some soul-searching, decided that action was needed. My aim was to show that whatever’s happening internally, there’s still fantastic art coming out of Lebanon.”

artB Dubai will take the form of a mixed-use space for art lovers rather than a traditional gallery under FLTRD art’s space. “Of course, there’ll be a serious side with excellent art on display, but we’re also planning to house an interactive space and areas where people can chat and have a coffee,” Jo explained. “The idea is to make it welcoming and fun, rather than intimidating – a hub where people can relax as well as browse the art.”

Revealing both trademark Lebanese entrepreneurial spirit and the depth of his passion for local and regional art, Jo explained that he also plans to take artB to other destinations once the Dubai space is firmly established, including Doha (Qatar), Cairo (Egypt) and Athens (Greece). “The philosophy is to build the name by travelling with Lebanese and Middle Eastern art from one city to another, developing and curating special exhibitions,” he said. 

A long-time collector, Jo first discovered his passion for art as a young boy, when visiting some of the world’s top museums and galleries on family trips and viewing the work of the Masters up close. “I loved entering that world. I really felt like the art was speaking to me, revealing a little bit of history in the best possible way,” he said. “As I became older, I began to appreciate better the quality of the art I was viewing, from the light and composition to the expression, emotion and use of colour.”

Although Jo chose to specialise in filmmaking as a student at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA), he often spent time his free time in the art department, observing the tuition with avid interest. After graduating, and with the benefit of a regular salary from his first job, he was able to begin indulging in what would become his lifetime hobby of collecting art. “I’d treat myself to a piece of art and it would instantly make me happy, in the same way that others might spend their money on a car or on clothes!” he said with a smile.

Before long, family members and friends began to ask for his recommendations on all things art related. “I’d always say the most important thing is that you love what you buy and that a purchase should express what you feel,” he said. 

Today he is the owner of an impressive and diverse range of work by artists from Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, but also from as far afield as the Americas, Europe and Africa. 

Having witnessed his collection expand over the years and played a part in introducing art to people for the first time, Jo is thrilled to think that artB Dubai will give Lebanese artists a welcome platform abroad, while also taking some of the stuffiness and snobbery out of the artworld. “Democratising art is definitely one of my aims – I’m looking to make art more accessible on all levels - by providing audiences with access to art and artists with access to audiences,” he said. “One of the many messages we’re looking to relay at artB Dubai and beyond is that you don’t need to be a millionaire to appreciate and buy a piece of art.”

artB Dubai will open at FLTRD art – Gate Avenue Zone C – DIFC, with ‘True Colors’ on November 29, 2021 at 6pm

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