Lost in the right direction is the second exhibition from Art Design Lebanon (AD Leb), a cultural space and digital platform dedicated to supporting cultural and artistic production in Lebanon and the surrounding region. In collaboration with the Ministry of Culture Directorate General of Antiquities and with the support of L’Institut Français au Liban, contemporary works by established and emerging artists, designers, and artisans are displayed at an archaeological site in the mountains east of Beirut in a rare, public outdoor exhibition.
A combination of sculptures, photography, drawings, textiles, and design interventions are installed across Deir El Kalaa – a Roman Byzantine settlement in the village of Beit Meri – creating a dialogue between the contemporary and the ancient arts and crafts. By encouraging organic collaborations between the thirty-seven participating artists, designers, artisans, and collectives, AD Leb aims to dismantle stereotypes that divide these disciplines and to challenge the convention of exhibiting them separately. Amongst the varied artworks, recurrent themes include nature and the Lebanese landscape, political turmoil and the upheaval of the pandemic, traditions and rituals, the passage of time, loss, memory, and hope.
To facilitate a holistic approach, the participating creatives were given tours by archaeology professor Assaad Seif to inform their works. This has resulted in pieces which both draw inspiration from and channel the energy of Deir El Kalaa, contributing to AD Leb’s goal of reviving a rich historical site and adapting a public outdoor space – something significantly lacking in Lebanon – for people to enjoy.
Visual artist Nathaniel Rackowe drew inspiration and forms from two unrealized design works by Gaïa Fodoulian to produce the sculptural, abstract piece Drop by Drop. It was partly influenced by Fodoulian’s preparatory drawings for a work inspired by the stalagmites in the Jeita Grotto, Lebanon. The fractured lines of stainless steel beams – echoing the ruins and disintegrated structures at Deir El Kalaa – are tipped with drops of light, pointing to a hopeful future. Fiber Artist Adrian Pepe collaborated with Bisat Al Rih, a group of Lebanese craftswomen who work with wool and use traditional loom-weaving techniques for the creation of carpets and tapestries. Through a process of spinning, hand embroidering, and felting, the wool is transformed into artefacts laden with emotion, mythology and symbolism. Pepe presents an embroidered Sky Map – inspired by the way shepherds relied on stars for guidance – within a curated space. A floor to ceiling woolen macrocosm, it references felt as the original textile, and its interconnection with ancient nomadic traditions. In these uncertain times, Pepe’s works evoke a dormant, more tangible understanding of nature and a primal, grounded form of existence. Artist Christine Safatly presents drawings and multimedia assemblages – including charcoal, oil paint, sugar, latex, wire, fabric, and cardboard, amongst other materials – which explore gendered corporeality, forms of alienation, and collective socioeconomic struggles, informed by her life experiences as a woman in Lebanon.
The exhibition’s title – Lost in the right direction – is a quote drawn from Gaïa Fodoulian’s Instagram page. An emerging designer herself, Gaïa developed the idea for AD Leb in early 2020 before her untimely death following the Beirut port explosion of 4 August that year. At the end of another turbulent year for Lebanon, this show offers a chance to connect and instigates a vital dialogue around the purpose and hope that can be found in creativity. The title also resonates more widely with global events following an unprecedented time throughout the pandemic. Whilst we are adapting and seeking direction in a constantly shifting reality, we can find new meaning through artistic expression and via the broad perspective provided by history and culture.
Annie Vartivarian, Director of AD Leb, said:
Directed by Gaïa’s vision, our work is focused on promoting local and regional creatives – artists, designers, architects, artisans, and makers – as well as championing the preservation of heritage territory and shedding light on forgotten spaces; creating dialogue between all creative forms; encouraging artists and designers to stay in Lebanon; and supporting the wider community through art, design, craft, and history.
Within the framework of the exhibition, workshops will also take place where artisanal practices and products will be showcased, shedding light on the importance of preserving and sustaining these endangered crafts.
Participating artists, designers, artisans and makers: Elias and Yousef Anastas; Lara Baladi; Bokja (Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri); Bisat Al Rih; Samer Bou Rjeily; Claudia Chahine; Karen Chekerdjian; Nohad El Daher; Oliver De Gem; Gilbert Debs; Nada Debs; Gaïa Fodoulian; Nouhad Hannaddaher; Hatem Imam; Rina Jaber; Roger Gemayel Lighting; Khalife Glass (Nisrine Khalife); Mohamad Kanaan; Natasha Karam; Marm Group Stone; Paul Merhy; Elie Morcos; Kamil Mrad; Hussein Nassereddine; Opus Magnum Gallery; Adrian Pepe; Nathaniel Rackowe; Pierre Rajha; Safa Group (Marwan Bou Ghanem); Mahmoud Safadi; Christine Safatly; Roula Salamoun; Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi; Caroline Tabet; Sibylle Tarazi; and Christian Zahr.
Exhibition scenography by: Hala Youne
About Deir el Kalaa
In the mountains fifteen kilometers east of Beirut and 800 meters above sea level, the archaeological site of Deir El Kalaa rises behind the village of Beit Meri. It was originally a Roman temple complex dating back to the first century AD. Thought to be the third largest of its kind in Lebanon, the layout of the temple complex, coupled with the nearby ruins of a Roman settlement, suggest that this was once an important festival site for the people of Beirut. Greek and Latin inscriptions discovered in the temple walls at Deir el Kalaa reveal details of worshippers of the god Baal Marcod and goddess Juno who traveled there in an act of reverence and devotion. Roman streets, boutiques, homes and baths have been unearthed along with the remains of Byzantine settlement which flourished between the fourth and sixth century AD. During the eighteenth century, a Maronite monastery was built at the site over the front part of Baal Marcod temple in addition to a church dedicated to St. John. The monastery and the church are still under the Antonine Maronite order today.
About Art Design Lebanon (AD Leb)
AD Leb is a cultural space and digital platform dedicated to supporting cultural and artistic production in Lebanon and the surrounding region. They stage exhibitions in unconventional spaces both in Lebanon and abroad, and also operate across the virtual realm. Through their exhibitions and curated parallel program, AD Leb aims to promote dialogue and connect local and international artists, designers, cultural practitioners, art enthusiasts, and collectors.
 Sources: Nina Jidejian, Beirut Through the Ages, Librairie Orientale, Beirut, 1998.
Hassane Sarkis and Assaad Seif, Deir el Qalaa & the Aqueduct of Zubaida, Archaeological Promenade Brochure, Ministry of Tourism, INMA, Beirut, 2005.