Eyes on the Prize

Gallery magazine, the quarterly publication dedicated to fine arts in Lebanon, recently announced the winners of its second Gallery Prize initiative. As the successful artists celebrated, Ramzi El Hafez, Gallery’s publisher and editor, talked to Artscoops about how the jury members arrived at their decisions and Lebanon’s ever-improving visual art ecosystem. 

Given how many disciplines and media contemporary art encompasses, how did you set about choosing the categories for the Gallery Prize?

We took a comprehensive approach, meaning that the categories were chosen to cover all aspects of the visual arts currently being exhibited in Lebanon. We were also keen to recognize new talents, as well as veteran artists.

The winning entries are all outstanding. What were the jury members looking for in potential winners?

Each of the jury members we selected has a totally different background. It was the convergence of their various perspectives that ensured a winner was selected who scored high on a number of criteria, with each jury member having a personal set to judge the works by. The final selection was made after a discussion by jury members and much of it was based on qualitative intangible aspects. An expert can recognize a superior work just by looking and feeling, with no need for an explanation.

Significantly you have joint winners in two categories. What was it about these entries that meant the jury members were unable to choose between them or felt they all deserved to be winners?

In these cases, we had a hung jury! The jury members all agreed that both works (in each of these two categories) were deserving, but were split on which were more deserving than the other. Some cited technical prowess, others originality. They finally agreed to split the prize between them.

The standard of art this year (and in 2021) was clearly extremely high and the entries were diverse in terms of subjects and media chosen, and techniques and processes used. What do you think the winning entries say about the level of artistic talent in Lebanon and the country’s status as a hub for art in the Middle East, given the competitive regional environment? 

The number of entries received was very high, not all of them of a high standard. A first cut was made before the jury deliberated on the winners, but many artists graduated to the second level. This indicates that the visual art ecosystem in Lebanon is growing in numbers as well as seeing its standards being elevated. It looks like the challenges and suffering seen in the country are serving as catalysts for artistic expression. Only Cairo and Beirut are currently presenting an ecosystem producing high-quality art, while other cities, especially in the Gulf, are offering more of a commercial platform. I guess they complement each other. Other countries that used to have wonderful art, such as Syria and Iraq, are under so much duress that many of their accomplished and promising artists have fled abroad. They are producing wonderful work, but outside their natural habitat and ‘hub’.   

Gallery Prize II winners

Best Painting: Zena Assi and Tamara Haddad (joint winners)

Best Photograph: Jack Dabaghian and Maher Attar (joint winners)

Best Sculpture: Ghassan Zard

Best Installation: Ziad Abillama

Best First Solo Exhibitor: Cybelle Moutran

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