Huguette Caland

What We Do


Subtitled: With Narratives from Lebanon

This fascinating exploration of the contemporary art scene included nearly 80 paintings, sculptures, mixed-media installations, photographs and films by 33 artists and ended with a panel discussion. The exhibition took place in 2011 at the Royal College of Art in London.


Subtitled: With Narratives from Lebanon

Panel Discussion

Art, Testimonial or Impulse to Looming Change?

November 3rd, 2011 – Royal College of Art – London

Monita Rajpal’s Introduction

There is not one of this country’s prestigious art institutions that Lord Palumbo has not supported as a trustee or a chairman since the late Seventies. He was a trustee at the Tate Gallery from 1978-1985, Chairman of its Foundation the following year. He has been Chair of the Pritzker Prize since 2004 and was Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1988-1993. He is also Chairman of the trustees of the Serpentine Gallery and a few others. There is an organic link to APEAL of course, through his wife Lady Palumbo, this year’s honorary chair, who is herself of Lebanese descent. Lord Palumbo has a keen interest in how public and private institutions can help nurture the art world.

Nada Sehnaoui, our second panelist, is a visual artist whose paintings and installations deal with war, personal memory, collective amnesia, identity and the recording of history. Her installations question the use of public spaces in relation to building democracy. She has studied Fine Arts, history, film production, cinematography as well as sociology in the United States and France. Her current installation, To Sweep, is a whimsical yet literal reference to the metaphor of ‘spring cleaning’ going in the Arab world.

Nadim Karam has a doctorate in architecture and is the recipient of several international awards. He has produced large scale and thought-provoking urban installations around the world and has taken part in major art fairs in Europe and Asia. His city installations have received wide international acclaim. The scale and the artistry, as well as intricate design of Karam’s pieces are awe-inspiring, showstoppers wherever they are displayed and they stir conversation on topical issues related to the rapidly crowding cityscapes in the Middle East.

Nora Boustany is an award-winning former war correspondent and also a member of APEAL, who has covered Lebanon and the Middle East. She has witnessed war at close hand and has written about its human and material devastation as societies and countries deconstruct and eventually try to rebuild themselves.

Zena el-Khalil is a visual artist, social activist and author of the book Beirut, I Love You, which chronicles the disappointments of a young woman who has returned from the US to study in Lebanon to confront jarring realities, while making special bonds and new discoveries. El Khalil represents the refreshing face of a new generation that is not willing to settle for the status quo, neither through her art or established social standards or gender norms.

Lord Palumbo’s Intervention

My point of departure has always been that artist is the most important member of society for the good and simple reason that at its best, art is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable. I also take the view that the Arts are not some adjunct to the real business of living, to be clipped on and snapped off like a bow tie. They are an integral and indispensable part of it, and they represent Truth, Beauty and Hope, even in their darkest passages, as well as satisfying a yearning for spiritual values. By their very nature, they speak a universal language that transcends race, color, creed and physical borders. And finally, and most importantly, they represent a yardstick by which the civilized nature of any nation is measured and judged. I offer this short preface because where funding of the Arts is concerned, there will always be people who will say that money is better spent on health and building hospitals, or education and building schools, and on research and equipment applicable to both, or on the defense of the realm, And it is the true that all matters are of vital national interest, and it is true that the first duty of any government is to protect and safeguard its citizens from attack, whether from outside or within the country itself, in order to preserve the great freedoms that are the preserve of any democracy, freedom of religious tolerance, expression, movement, marriage, and so on. But the competing claims of the great portfolios of State should not be regarded as mutually exclusive and should most certainly include provision for the Arts, for the reasons that I have outlined above. The best definition of the artist I have ever heard came from the famous economist John Maynard Keynes, Lord Keynes, who was also the first chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain just after the Second World War. In a famous BBC radio broadcast in 1947 he described the artist in these words: ‘The artist walks where the breath of the spirit blows him. He cannot be told his direction. He doesn’t know it himself. But he leads the rest of us into new pastures and he teaches us to love and enjoy what we often begin by rejecting, enlarging our sensibilities and purifying our instincts.’ Government funding of the Arts varies from country to country. In the UK, the government provides a subsidy to the Arts Council of some £850 million a year. Of that sum, almost half, that is to say £400 million, is allocated to projects in the capital through the National Lottery. Local authorities country-wide, spend between £700-800 million a year maintaining museums, theatres, libraries, etc., within their jurisdiction, whilst the private sector, comprised of individuals, corporations and trusts, provide £650 million a year.

Nada Sehnaoui’s Intervention

In the year 1975, I lived with my family in Ashrafieh, one of Beirut’s neighborhoods and went to a school located in Verdun, another neighborhood. One morning, the driver taking us to school abruptly stopped at the beginning of Mathaf, a street that links Ashrafieh to Verdun, realizing that driving through would be suicidal. Suddenly, going to school became an issue and Beirut, a fragmented city. From then on, someone else would decide how we would spend our days and where we would lay at night. Hiding in shelters, queuing for water, not going to school for days, sometimes weeks, even the names given to the places we lived in, the war has changed. My home in Ashrafieh became part of East Beirut and my school in Verdun became part of West Beirut. Fifteen years later, soon after the Lebanese war ended, a short list of statistics was published in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Le Monde and other newspapers. It read: ‘150,000 dead, 200,000 wounded, 17,500 disappeared, 3641 car bombs.’ I was astounded to see that 15 tragic years of our lives, had been reduced to such a short text. In response, Lebanese War Statistics was my first body of conceptual work to use this small statistical summation. If what we read in the press could be a reduction of our experiences, a denial of who we are, then why not try to re-edit their work, rewrite their texts, redesign their front pages? Every day for a year, I painted the first page of L’Orient- Le Jour, the daily Lebanese Francophone newspaper. The war had been over for a few years by then and Beirut could be ours again. But how do you reclaim a city where the voices of its inhabitants had been muted for so many years by bombs and bullets? Promenade in Your Dreams, my first large-scale public installation, gave voice to the youngest inhabitants of the city, children and teenagers were asked to describe the school of their dreams. The 1740 collected texts and drawings created a space where school children could play, run and sit, surrounded by their collective dreams. The war had been over for several years and Beirut could be ours again. But how do you reclaim a city whose heart had been destroyed and its social fabric fragmented? ‘Do you have an everyday memory of Downtown Beirut before the war’ was the question I asked the public at large. More than a hundred texts were sent in response. Twenty tons of newspapers, in addition to these texts provided the material for the installation, Fractions of Memory. Held in Downtown Beirut on a lot near Martyrs Square, which had been emptied twice, first by the war and then by the reconstruction, invited passers-by to reclaim the twice-erased heart of the city. Some did not make it through the 15 years of war. They did not die, like so many and they were not wounded, like many more. They simply vanished. Waynoun? Where are they? was an installation commissioned by the committee of Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon. More than 3,000 individuals are still missing today, some since 1975. Successive Lebanese governments have ignored, or failed to address their plight. The general amnesty law that of 1991 pardoned war crimes without offering any material or moral compensation to victims and their families. This was the platform for the state of collective amnesia. Amnesia is a denial of the past but more importantly, amnesia is a denial of the future. I installed 600 toilet seats in Downtown Beirut in 2008 and posed one question: ‘Haven’t 15 years of hiding in toilets been enough?’ This work was in memory of the time when we collectively used to hide from bombs and bullets in bathrooms and other improvised shelters. To face fragmentation, amnesia and threats to fall back into idiotic patterns of violence, the urge was to create public spaces for walking and reflection, spaces where urban dwellers could reclaim their city and be citizens. I have a dream that I come from a place where citizens and not warlords are acknowledged as builders of the nation, builders of a multi-dimensional identity.
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