Making memories

The Lebanese artist Darwiche Chamaa tells ArtScoops why he believes art has a key role to play in depicting monumental events

Your new exhibition, ‘Memories of Beirut’ is clearly a highly emotive project. What reactions has it generated amongst visitors? And how did you feel when you saw the works on display and the responses from audiences?

The exhibition has been very successful and the reactions from the audiences very positive. The subject of the exhibition - ‘Memories of Beirut’ – resonates with visitors and their feelings as it speaks about the suffering that the Lebanese people have been experiencing now for a long time.

How did you choose your themes and subjects for the exhibition and is there a work that particularly resonates with you? 

I chose my topics from the reality we live in. The explosion of August 4, 2020 had a huge impact on the Lebanese people and me personally. It was a tragedy that I felt compelled to date and depict in my paintings. Art should play a role in the depiction of such important events. This catastrophe - the Beirut blast - should be immortalised in the history of Lebanese art.

Given that you work from photos and sketches, how did you plan and undertake your research/groundwork ahead of painting the works featured in the show?

I usually start my paintings by working on some sketches and pictures, but the artwork needs a lot of research concerning the composition and the choice of colours. I use different tones and I work on the diversity of materials and textures. The painting is like music, with composition one of the most important features of my artworks, to the extent that I can’t keep away from it.

You have held several other exhibitions of your work over the years. Did preparing and launching this one feel different, given the disastrous situation in Lebanon and the suffering that so many of its people face? 

The situation in Lebanon didn't affect my preparation for this exhibition. I think it was as usual, despite the lack of some oil colour tubes and other materials, which was due to the economic crisis and most suppliers having not imported new materials for a long time.

Your choice of colours varies considerably for each piece, and the elements incorporated are equally eclectic and varied. To what extent did the subject of each piece determine your palette and other stylistic elements, and were these conscious or sub-conscious decisions?

The choice of colours depends on the subject and also on my mood. Working with colours and textures is directly related to the psychological state of the artist.

You are also a tutor at university and schools. How do you think the challenging situation faced by your students has affected them? 

The critical situation in Lebanon has undoubtedly had a huge impact on students. Materials are much more expensive than before, which is a real issue for our students. Many students are planning to travel after their graduation with the aim of getting a job abroad. The current situation has destroyed their dreams and their vision of Lebanon’s future.

It must be a challenge to decide how to follow up this exhibition. Have you begun planning your next project?

Of course I’ve started thinking about my next exhibition. Preparing for an exhibition requires hard work and intellectual effort. Each painting is a part of the artist’s diary and a reflection of his dreams and feelings.

The Gabon-born artist and teacher Darwiche Chamaa has lived in Lebanon for over 30 years. He holds a Master’s degree in Plastic Arts from the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA), alongside other qualifications. His work has featured in several solo shows in Lebanon and abroad, and many collectives. It can also be found in a number of private collections. Chamaa’s topical new show, ‘Memories of Beirut’, runs at Galerie Cheriff Tabet until April 14. 

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