After humanitarian and educational activities since 1998 in Armenia and Lebanon, the Boghossian Foundation has also set itself the objective to contribute, as concretely as possible, to the dialogue between the cultures of the East and the West. To this end it has installed its headquarters at the Villa Empain, jewel of the Brussels Art Deco architecture.
After its complete restoration, this magnificent building opened to the public in April 2010, where the Boghossian Foundation proposes exhibitions, concerts, conferences, international meetings, reuniting and comparing certain aspects of these different cultures.
Art has taken an essential role through this approach. In this context, it is important to understand art as a universal language, a means of communication and sharing between different cultures, a desire to share and dialogue, which exceeds time and borders.
The exhibition Art is the answer ! proposes a selection of works produced by twenty artists, illustrating their vitality which hallmarks present-day Lebanon’s art scene.
It is of course a limited selection, which mainly reflects the wish to enable the Brussels public to discover artists rarely exhibited in the European capital and to help it become aware of their specific activities as well as their sources of inspiration shared with western artists.
In many Arab Countries, it took time for artistic modernity to get way from a local and specialized scene. It was not until the early 2000s that a real dialogue was embarked between western dynamics and the eastern artists. On the Arab side, art, more than ever, demonstrated its instrumental nature by helping to express the frustrations and humiliations undergone by peoples during the turmoil. On the western side, the feeling of fear in the face of terror became associated with a curiosity about these often misunderstood cultures. It is in this context that Lebanon affirms its singularities.
In the 1960s, the Arab-Israeli wars and the plethora of autocratic regimes in the region turned Beirut into a haven of freedom and innovation.
But the years 1975-1976 were marked by violence and amidst the bombs a new generation would try to live and express itself. For fifteen years, the country lived cut off from any temptation of normality, torn apart between contradictory and murderous forces.
The 1990s were all about reconstruction. Lebanon wanted to turn the page; the State invested in the renovation of infrastructures and confided the task of preparing a master plan for the capitals downtown area to a private company. In the construction site of the future 21st century megalopolis, many failed to find their place, and demanded a work of memory. To the law which amnestied war crimes, they responded with a desire to record history. New artistic practices such as performances, installations, videos, music, photography and cinema were initiated and gave birth to unique experiences. The experiments, produced with very limited means, would be presented in unusual, sometimes dilapidated places and open a public debate.
As the cornerstone of Lebanese artwork in the 1990s and 2000s, in-depth investigation into the ghosts of recent history also helped to free up a whole raft of issues linked with the city and society.
In the early 2000s, Lebanon suddenly found itself in the headlines again. From the assassination of Rafic Hariri to the demonstrations it gave rise to, from the July 2006 war to the period of instability that risked ending in catastrophe, the specters of turmoil resurfaced. Whether artists had remained in the country or settled abroad, they would react with disconcerting speed. Simultaneously with Israeli air raids, they would distribute short films, drawings, texts, and acoustic and visual works. Many of those urgently produced pieces would be put on view all over the world in the months following those famous thirty-three days. From Dubai to Sydney, through London, Venice and New York, the public was eager to see and hear what Lebanese people had to say. The Lebanese art scene managed not only to get across to its own society its likes and dislikes, its ideas, its fears and its dreams, but it also set out to conquer the world. The West discovered it with fascination and at the same time, the Gulf monarchies embarked upon an overabundance of fairs, biennials and museums. Lebanese artists were honorably invited here, whilst in 1990 they were merely considered as agitators.
In January 2009, the Beirut Art Center opened its doors in a former furniture factory. The flawless rooms of this art center swiftly became the arena for a well-endowed program and unexpected encounters. A year later, it was the turn of Solidere, the company responsible for the reconstruction of downtown Beirut, to inaugurate its Beirut Exhibition Center.
At the end of 2010, the whole Arab world toppled in a movement that was as unexpected as it was uncertain: the so-called Arab spring. Faced with these challenges, the Lebanese art scene continues to move and amaze, renew and reinvent itself.