Beirut, Lebanon – At the beginning of 2020, the Lebanese-Armenian designer Gaia Fodoulian was planning the launch of her new virtual gallery. The 29-year-old has sought to support artists and designers in the region with a modern and larger-scale platform.
On August 4, 2020, her dreams were interrupted by massive explosion which shook Beirut, devastating entire neighborhoods and destroying countless lives. Fodoulian was one of 208 people killed in the blast that day.
Three days after her death, her mother, Annie Vartivarian, decided to complete her daughter’s work in her memory. Earlier this month, virtual platform Art Design Lebanon (AD Leb) launched “Everyone is the Creator of Their Own Faith,” a physical pop-up exhibit in the historic Tabbal building damaged by the explosion.
“Gaia started this project and I wanted her name, her legacy to continue to live on, even though she is no longer with us,” Vartivarian told Al Jazeera. “I knew that was what she wanted me to do and I believe in what she was doing.
“I always trusted his instincts and asked him, ‘What do you think?’ I still ask her sometimes, but of course she is not answering now, ”she added. “A platform like AD Leb is needed in Lebanon and in the region. I have confidence in this business she had embarked on and I wanted it to happen.
Benefit for animal charity
All profits made by AD Leb from sales will go to the Gaia Fodoulian Foundation, an organization founded to support and care for animals in need and provide assistance to animal rescuers – a cause that Fodoulian cared deeply about.
Fodoulian had set aside funds to produce her own design pieces – a pair of modular benches that could be made from concrete or wood, which she designed as a graduate student at Istituto Marangoni in Milan. . Vartivarian took the designs and had the benches produced for AD Leb’s inaugural exhibition.
The title of the exhibit comes from the caption of the photo from Fodoulian’s latest social media post – a carefree photo of her running towards the camera on a trip to Sri Lanka. Vartivarian said she made the post in a brief 15-minute lull in their busy afternoon, hours before the explosion.
“Although she had a strong personality, she was also very sensitive, which prompted her to enter the artistic world. Maybe that’s why she posted this post at the last minute, that she knew her soul was leaving the world, ”Vartivarian said. “I was so intrigued to know what she was thinking when she posted this post. I thought a lot about this legend… So I proposed it to the artists of the series, a bit like Gaia’s last instruction to me perhaps.
“I can’t say for sure what she was planning, but if I start to doubt everything, I’ll go crazy,” she added. “She would always ask me my opinion on her designs and her work, so I’m treating it like that now.”
‘Their own individuality’
The pop-up show brings together both newly commissioned and existing works by artists and designers Samer Bou Rjeily, Karen Chekerdjian, Hatem Imam, Sirine Fattouh, Paul Kaloustian, Nathalie Khayat, Hussein Nassereddine and Caroline Tabet.
Khayat’s work “Light Sleepers” is directly linked to last year’s tragedy, with an installation of 208 porcelain chandeliers, representing the number of lives lost in the explosion. Each Raku fired piece is unique, created with abstract shapes and impulse molded, glazed in a variety of colors.
“I made them in a very short time, so it was very intense work. I like the fact that they have their own individuality and that each has their own story, ”Khayat told Al Jazeera. “I like working with the idea of rituals. For me, lighting a candle is a ritual in itself. It is a gesture that carries something and, for different occasions, it has a different meaning behind it. In this context, it is a tribute to the people who lost their lives on August 4. “
Other projects tackle the theme of faith and belief more broadly, such as the sculptural installation by Nassereddine “The Red Castle, As It Happened”, inspired by a poem by the famous Abbasid poet Abu al. -Mutanabbi.
It features a tall column of limestone, the material probably originally used to build the castle, tinted with red ink made from a formula from the Abbasid era. The play draws attention to how something small has led to an incorrect belief for centuries simply because it was written down somewhere.
“He was describing a battle that was going on around this red castle, and for centuries it was believed, because there are no remains of this castle now, all that remains is this poem,” said Nassereddine. “It was believed that the castle was built of brick or red stone, but further archaeological research has shown that there were no structures at that time and in this area built with red materials and that it was not. was that the imagination of the poet.
Each work has its own room, spread over the first two floors of the spacious heritage building, with a scenography designed by Ghaith & Jad. Vartivarian wanted something with more history than the usual white-walled galleries or often used industrial warehouses.
Built in the late 19th century and enlarged during the French Mandate period, the building bears the characteristic richly decorated vaulted ceilings, tri-arch window, and geometric tiled floors of many Lebanese heirlooms. The Tabbal building is just one of 800 heritage buildings that suffered damage in the explosion, as most of Beirut’s Ottoman architecture is near the port.
“It turns out that the owner of the building died during the explosion and the building was hit as well,” she said. “I felt something about this building, its character and that there was a connection between the building and the exhibition.”
AD Leb is hopeful that its use of the space will attract interest and lead to proper restore and backup. For now, he has partnered with the NGO Silat for Culture to organize free tours of the exhibition and the history of the building.
AD Leb also has plans for a 3D video of the exhibit to reach an outside audience and an online program of on-site lectures and performances. He hopes to schedule four exhibitions a year, featuring regional artists and collaborations with practitioners and international institutions.
Vartivarian aims for the platform to offer some hope to the Lebanese cultural community, which has been severely affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, associated with the ongoing financial crisis and the fallout from the explosion. The severely affected areas of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael are home to most of the city’s galleries and cultural instructions.
Vartivarian’s own Letitia Gallery in Hamra closed for good after the explosion.
“To accept the situation in Lebanon for what it is – at best desperate – is to accept defeat, to fall into despair. In order to keep going, day in and day out, I have to believe things will get better eventually, ”said Vartivarian.
“It is difficult to find the energy, even the courage, to invest emotionally… but it was my duty to encourage all those with whom I worked on this exhibition to fight against this feeling and not to give in to the despair.
More information on artdesignlebanon.com