Bid, buy and bring a ray of hope

Born across two continents on the back of global goodwill, ‘Artists with Beirut’ is an online benefit art auction, hosted by ArtScoops, with a truly international reach, as its organisers, Sabine El Gemayel and Mira Hawa, explain

Like others with family in Lebanon, when, on August 4, a massive explosion ripped through Beirut Port and across much of the city, killing at least 200 people, leaving thousands injured and causing catastrophic damage to homes and businesses, LA-based Sabine El Gemayel spent much of the day desperately trying to ensure her loved ones were safe.

“We have a WhatsApp group for family members, so after waking up to the horrific news, I spent hours trying to locate family and friends, taking updates from my nephew,” the Franco-Lebanese filmmaker explained.
Initially, Sabine was frozen with shock at the scale of the disaster and its consequences, unable to think straight. But gradually, disbelief was replaced by rage at the level of incompetence and corruption that had allowed a tragedy of such epic proportions to happen. “My anger was mixed with a feeling of helplessness, being so far away,” she admitted. “Then I thought to myself that I could either let the guilt eat away at me or do something productive.”
Sabine had long loved art, and together with her husband, collects on what she describes as a modest level. Gradually, she began to consider whether her passion for art and contacts in the industry could be channelled into an initiative to support the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon in the form of an online benefit art auction. Immediately, she turned to her long-time friend, marketing communication and project consultant, Mira Hawa, who lived in Lebanon and was herself keen to play a part in helping with Beirut’s recovery.

“Sabine is very dear to me – much more than just a former client - and an all-round fantastic woman,” Mira said, taking up the story. “Once we began talking – two women uninjured by the blast, desperate to do something to help the city and its people in some way - it didn’t take long for the online auction project to take shape.”

The pair both had attributes that would be key in helping to move their idea forward. Coming from a family of philanthropists, Sabine brought with her plenty of experience in fundraising, having already successfully mobilised support for initiatives that included her own film projects and others for her children’s schools. However, she was naturally apprehensive about approaching artists and galleries, given the challenging situation that many currently faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I was aware that this is a tricky time for people,” she admitted. “I feared many were suffering from a dose of auction fatigue, with artists over-solicited, so found it hard to reach out and ask for favours.”
And yet, to her surprise and delight, the response was fantastic, in part Sabine believes, due to a global solidarity borne out of the coronavirus. “I think people have been more receptive and had greater empathy for Lebanon because of the crisis we’ve all had to endure in recent months,” she said.

While Sabine was drumming up support for the auction in LA, Mira was dipping into her e-book of contacts on the ground in Lebanon, driven, she explained, by her “unconditional love” for Beirut and the Lebanese people, and what she describes as her Viking spirit, in reference to her part-Danish heritage.

“I love the pulse of the city, the fact that the spirit remains undeterred and unbroken even if it’s in pieces,” she said.

Early on in the campaign, the women discussed whether to ask for contributions from the Lebanese themselves, both aware of just how much the country and its people had endured. But Mira soon began to gauge a different sentiment on the ground. “I felt there was movement of people who really wanted to be involved, so sought the opinion of my friends and they agreed,” she said.  

Mira began asking key players on the local art scene whether they wished to contribute to the auction and the response, again, was overwhelming, leaving her on some occasions close to tears and “with goosebumps”. “There were instances where people went off to fetch a painting out of storage from their private collections to donate, for example, or open their gallery specially for the auction,” she said. “It has been truly humbling and heart-warming.”

Titled ‘Artists With Beirut’, the highly anticipated auction is now set to open on ArtScoops, the online curated platform, specialised in modern and contemporary art of the Middle East and Africa. Bidders will find more than 40 exciting and diverse works of art to choose from by an almost equal number of international and Lebanese artists, hailing from 10 cities across seven countries. The collection includes an eclectic range of offerings, from paintings, prints and photographs to ceramics. Many of the pieces submitted have a backstory; for example, Washington-based Victor Ekpuk’s piece is inspired by the writings of Khalil Gibran. Other, more unusual contributions include a delightful couture two-piece donated by Tony Ward, whose Fashion House headquarters were severely damaged in the blast, and a one-to-one Zoom chat ‘experience’ with the film director and producer, Phillipe Aractingi.

Both Sabine and Mira were adamant that the fundraising campaign would be entirely transparent and that 100% of the money raised would go directly to the cause, which was why they decided to link up with the Beirut Emergency Fund, a collaborative humanitarian effort and coalition of Lebanese diaspora organisations, namely SEAL US, LIFE, LEBNET and their partners. “The money will be paid directly to, a 501c3 non-profit organisation, making the purchase tax-deductible in the US,” Sabine said.

“Everyone who contributes to this project can rest assured that their money is going directly to where it’s needed most – to help rebuild this wonderful city and the lives of its citizens,” Mira added.

Artists With Beirut runs from September 25 to October 2, 2020 on ArtScoops.
To view the auction, click here

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