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A world of beasts in Ashrafieh.

Summary: "The animal," said gallerist Alice Mogabgab, "has become a symbol, the subject of a piece of art."

BEIRUT: "The animal," said gallerist Alice Mogabgab, "has become a symbol, the subject of a piece of art."

The gallerist is putting her money where her mouth is. "Animal," the current exhibition at Alice Mogabgab Gallery features works by 20-odd artists, including French painter Charles Belle, English sculptor Emma Rodgers, Lebanon's Fadia Haddad and Houda Kassatly and Japan's Takayoshi Sakabe, among others.

The exhibition has a backstory.

In late March of this year, Mogabgab participated in Art Paris, an extensive art fair that gathers galleries from all over the world at the Grand Palais. The Mogabgab Gallery stand sported an animal-themed display of paintings and sculptures. After finding some success in the French capital, the gallerist has brought these works back to Beirut.

"Animal" is curated by French filmmaker Luc Jacquet -- best known as the writer-director behind "The March of the Penguins" (2005) and "The Fox and the Child" (2008). He's also made a film about snakes.

Based on his oeuvre as a filmmaker, Jacquet is interested in animals, so it's no surprise, perhaps, that he was enthusiastic about assembling an exhibition on a similar theme.

The filmmaker-turned-curator stopped in Beirut for the opening of his exhibition. "What interests me," said Jacquet, "is diversity in people's impressions of things." This is precisely what onlookers can expect from his exhibition.

"Spider Seduction," a mixed-media work by Belgium's Pascale Bernier, may have given goosebumps to any arachnophobes in the house. The artist has delicately pinned a tarantula to a round piece of white embroidery -- as good an approximation of a spider's web as any human handicraft.

Like "Orville, the Helicopter Cat," by Dutch artist Bart Jansen, which recently caused a stir during Amsterdam's KunstRAI art festival, Bernier's work mingles art with taxidermy to create a sort of still life sculpture. A close examination will reveal the needle that paralyzed the arachnid, like the ones bug collectors use on butterflies.

There is something skeletal -- more precisely exoskeletal -- in Emma Rodgers' bronze and ceramic sculptures, but this comparison shouldn't be read negatively. Although her slender renderings of dog, bear and horse resemble shells, for all their hollowness they are imbued with a great deal of power.

Her bronze "L'Ours" (The Bear) portrays the majestic animal with one leg. What is startling is how -- though this bear only has one functional leg -- there is an impressive sense of how the piece radiates motion. It is as though the creature's bearing transcends matters of anatomical precision.

Meandering through the gallery, onlookers will also find themselves face-to-face with "Zebu" (55x74x31 cm), a metal sculpture by Lebanese sculptor Farid Zoghbi. If Rodgers' work has an exoskeletal quality, Zoghbi appears to have taken a fancy to the skeleton.

His metallic sculpture of the Zebu (a humpbacked South Asian ox or cow) evokes an aspect of brutality yet also fragility and elegance. The delicately applied metal bars effectively suggest the creature's bone structure.

"Animal" has provided an opportunity for the works of Lebanon's Fadia Haddad to return to the Mogabgab Gallery. Her mixed-media piece "Songeurs de Synonymes" (Dreamers' Synonyms, 162x130 cm) depicts two birds. One occupies the center of the media while the second, smaller, one seems to be elevated on an unidentified circular item.

Whether geese or storks, the bird is omnipresent in Haddad's paintings -- as are masks, which was the title of her earlier November 2010 exhibition at the Mogagab Gallery.

Luc Jacquet was en route to Peru when he dropped by Beirut. There he plans to shoot a new film, "It Was a Forest," which will take as its subject (you guessed it) forests. The project will also take him to Gabon.

The new film, he explained, would mingle footage of what remains of the Peruvian forest with animated representations of what is invisible to the human eye -- forest growth. Jacquet hopes the film will capture in a few hours what usually takes several centuries to actually transpire. The French filmmaker expects the film to see the light of day next year.

"Animal" is on display at Ashrafieh's Alice Mogabgab Gallery until July 28. For more information, please call 03-210-424.

Copyright 2012, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jun 25, 2012
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