Implosion by Driss Ouadahi Image Credit: Supplied

In its fourth edition, Beirut Art Fair (BAF) will once again put the spotlight on art from the Menasa region (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia). The event, to be held at the Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure Centre from September 19 to September 22, will feature modern and contemporary art galleries from around the globe. But the organisers will focus on showcasing the work of artists from the area between Morocco and Indonesia. New elements in this edition include a celebration of art from Southeast Asia, and a dedicated space for emerging Lebanese designers. This year also marks the launch of Beirut Art Week, a city-wide celebration of art featuring a variety of public art projects and fun events.

“The dynamism of contemporary Middle Eastern art can be felt at leading art fairs in Paris, Basel, New York and Dubai. But BAF is unique because it focuses exclusively on the Menasa region. Our aim is to provide a global platform for artists, galleries and collectors from this region and to encourage emerging artists and designers. We are happy to see that this year we have many more galleries from Europe, and also galleries from the United States and South America, presenting artworks by Menasa artists,” says Laure d’Hauteville, the fair manager. “Last year we had more than 11,000 visitors and sales worth $ 2 million [Dh7.34 million], and we hope to do much better in this edition,” she adds.

d’Hauteville is a well-known art consultant from France and has always been interested in promoting Middle Eastern art. In 1998, she launched Art Sud — the first art fair in Beirut — and has curated the 2007 and 2008 editions of Art Paris – Abu Dhabi. She returned to Lebanon in 2010 to launch ME.NA.SA Art Fair, which was later renamed Beirut Art Fair.

“Beirut is the ideal location for this fair because it has a well-established and liberal art tradition, and Lebanon has always been a cultural crossroads where different intellectual currents come together to create a great cultural mosaic. BAF has contributed to strengthening the interest of international collectors and art professionals in the Lebanese art scene; and in recognition of this contribution, the fair has been granted the patronage of His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Lebanon, General Michel Sleiman this year,” she says.

Pascal Odille, artistic director of BAF, shares d’Hauteville’s passion for Menasa art. The art expert from France, who is known for discovering and encouraging many emerging talents, works closely with galleries, artists and art professionals from around the world to develop the commercial and cultural programme of the fair. “We try to exhibit work that is not seen in other fairs and we try to bring new galleries every year to offer something fresh to visitors. The selection of artworks displayed at BAF is not influenced by stereotypes or the dictates of the art market, but rather by our desire to truly reflect the dynamism and diversity of art in the region and the different perspectives and socio-political contexts of the artists. We try to make our commercial and cultural programme as innovative as possible. We were the first fair in this region to showcase street art and comic art, and we have planned many interesting new elements for this year such as a drive-in theatre, complete with popcorn for screening video art,” he says.

On the commercial front, BAF 2013 features 47 modern and contemporary art galleries from 14 countries. Besides leading galleries from Lebanon and France, the list also includes Caroline Pages from Portugal, The SK8Room from Belgium, Tajalliyat Art Gallery and Samer Kozah Gallery from Syria, Jennifer Norback Fine Art from the US and Laura Arce Art Gallery from Venezuela. Participants from the GCC region include Al Mohtaraf Gallery from Saudi Arabia and XVA Gallery from the UAE. “This year, we have invited galleries to also bring artworks by artists from outside the Menasa region to facilitate a dialogue between different cultures,” d’Hauteville says. “And we have also compiled a selection of sculptures from well-known international artists such as Martin Boyce, Choi Xooang, Yim Tae Kyu, Philippe Pasqua and Samar Mogharbel.”

The special Southeast Asia pavilion at the fair features nine leading galleries from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, showcasing the work of 19 emerging artists. The pavilion is curated by gallerist Richard Koh, and features paintings, sculptures, video art, photographic works and installations, providing an overview of contemporary art in Southeast Asia. The artworks range from Indonesian artist Angki Purbandono’s “King of Capsules” — an LED light box expressing his cynical view of modern life — to Singaporean artist PHUNK’s witty resin sculptures. Other featured artists include David Chan, Vertical Submarine, Justin Lim, Saiful Razman, Attasit Aniwatchon, Jay Ticar and Yasmin Sison.

“This pavilion serves as an introduction to a new fair we are launching in Singapore. The aim of the Singapore Art Fair, to be held from November 27 to November 30, 2014, is to focus on emerging artists from Southeast Asia. This is the first time Southeast Asian art is being displayed in Beirut, and we plan to have a similar showcase of Menasa art in Singapore next year. We believe it is meaningful to set up a cultural dialogue between these two regions because the artists share many common concerns and themes such as issues of gender, migration and the environment,” d’Hauteville says.

Highlights of the BAF 2013 cultural programme include a photographic exhibition titled “Generation War”; an art performance by Lebanese artist Jean Marc Nahas and French artist Fabian Verschaere; an installation by Charbel Samuel Aoun, titled “Garbagescape”; and talks and discussions on topics relevant to the region.

“Generation War” has been organised by the support of renowned journalist Marine Jacquemin and curated by Lebanese artist Katya Traboulsi. It features an iconic collection of photographs by Lebanese photojournalists George Azar, Patrick Baz, Samer Mohdad, Aline Manoukian and Roger Moukarzel. The six artists were barely 20 when war erupted in Lebanon in the 1980s. But the pictures they took on the deserted, rubble-filled streets of Beirut then caught the attention of the world, and were published in prestigious magazines around the globe. The surrealistic photographs document daily life in the city during those tumultuous times. They include tragic images of displaced families and destroyed buildings, as well as heart-warming pictures such as a smiling bride stepping out from a building fortified with sandbags, and a woman enjoying an afternoon of water-skiing under the watchful eye of a rifle-toting escort. “These pictures are not about war, but about the atmosphere of war and about how people live during such difficult times. Today the six artists are internationally known reporters and press photographers, and this exhibition is a tribute to them,” d’Hauteville says.

In their live performance, Nahas and Verschaere will join forces to create a monumental “four-handed” work of art, covering an entire 7-metre wall. And Aoun will present his “Garbagescape” — a series of glass boxes filled with waste that the artist found in the countryside. The work speaks about the Lebanese identity in the 21st century. The BAF Art Talks programme includes a discussion on contemporary photojournalism with the “Generation War” photographers; and conversations with experts on the emergence of Southeast Asian art and artists in the global art scene.

BAF is once again inviting young Lebanese photographers to submit their work for the Byblos Bank Award for photography. “This award was instituted last year to discover, encourage and support talented young Lebanese photographers. The winner was Dory Younes, and earlier this year the bank hosted his first solo exhibition and published an exhibition catalogue, giving him a valuable opportunity to be noticed by art lovers, collectors and galleries,” d’Hauteville says.

The fair is also supporting the next generation of designers in Lebanon through the “BLC Design Platform”, a competition supported by BLC Bank. Ten promising young Lebanese designers have been selected by Jerome Sans, art critic, curator, and director of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing. And they have been given the opportunity to showcase their designs, ranging from lamps to shishas, on this international platform.

BAF 2013 is part of Beirut Art Week, which runs from September 18 to September 24 and comprises public art projects such as sculptures, installations and interactive performances in various areas of the city, including the Souks, Zaitounay Bay, Saifi Village and Harbour Square. “We want to create a festive atmosphere for the whole city to celebrate art, and we have planned many fun events to engage the local community with art. We are collaborating with major fashion outlets in the downtown shopping district to display artworks by exciting local artists and important international artists in the shop windows and shelves. And with support from Beirut municipality, we will install monumental sculptures in the streets and organise street parties, hosted by well-known DJs,” d’Hauteville says.

Artists participating in Beirut Art Week include Mona Hatoum, Xavier Veilhan, Matthew Monahan, Marc Quinn and Philippe Pasqua. And the fun artworks to be installed on the streets include six monumental sculptures of rabbits in pop colours, and a giant skull by Pasqua. Hourly shuttles have been arranged between the fair venue and downtown Beirut.

“Since the inception of BAF we have been keen to build a ‘hybrid fair’ which combines commerce with a high-quality cultural programme — that is in tune with the changes in the international art market, while also reflecting the dynamism of the art scene in Lebanon. Beirut Art Week is a major step in that direction,” d’Hauteville says.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.

For more information, visit www.beirut-art-fair.com.