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Bright lights on the artistic horizon.

Summary: "Afaq 3" serves as a sort of cavern adorned by contemporary art. Upon entering, onlookers may discover something of the range of work being produced by the country's younger artists.

BEIRUT: "Afaq 3" serves as a sort of cavern adorned by contemporary art. Upon entering, onlookers may discover something of the range of work being produced by the country's younger artists. It has been one year since curator Razan Chatti launched his series of "Afaq" (Horizon) exhibitions.

The first two installments were shown in August 2011 (on the ground floor of the Platinum Tower, Downtown) and in April 2012 (Gallery 1064 in Saifi Village). This latest "Afaq" is now up and running at The Venue, the Beirut Souks' portentously named exhibition space.

"Afaq 3" features works by 18 young and emerging artists. With works by Marwa al-Awji, Nour Ballouk, Bahaa al-Souki and Mohamad Saad, all graduates of Lebanese universities, and Samer Sayem al-Daher, the lone Syrian artist in the exhibition, the show suggests something of the wide diversity of local artistic practice.

"I went to many universities," said Chatti, "and asked the teachers which students were the best."

With its bright colors, Ahlam Abbas' photograph "Hamra Building" is among the more eye-catching pieces. It documents an urban intervention involving an array of more than 20 red, pink, blue, yellow and green bird houses hung on a structure's exterior piping.

Though the hues are for some reason evocative of Latin America, each is adorned with the triple arch -- which has come to be recognized as emblematic of the "Lebanese house" in the years before independence. At any rate, the colorful interventions drastically enliven the edifice's time-worn concrete-and-metal exterior.

At first sight, some items appear deceptively decorative.

Clustered at the center of the space, each elevated on small marble columns, the metal sculptures of Nabil Rizk's "The Shape of a Shadow" installation are weighty with significance.

Rizk's work is made of shell shrapnel transformed, as the exhibition catalogue would have it, "into expressions of human suffering." The works bear a two-fold meaning. Shaped like a human, each work stands for the importance of individuality. They also represent the notion of collective memory of Lebanon's Civil War. They rise as one with the sense of unity emerging from the installation, but reflect each human being's identity and uniqueness.

Youssef Nehme's mixed-media works also revisit found items, in this case taking inspiration from microchip circuitry. One untitled work takes the form of a man sitting on a stool. His physical features are all made of integrated electronic circuits, assembled as if by a soldering iron.

Another of his works depicts a reclining man. A third features a woman milking a cow. Onlookers are likely to be more intrigued by the artist's use of microelectronic motifs (and all they have come to represent in terms of the alienated, or interconnected, present) as media to depict mundane human activities.

Somewhat isolated from the other artworks stands an untitled installation by Nicoles Younes. This automated mixed-media work represents Beirut. A massive cube at the center of the piece is covered with a part of a city map, atop which have been glued images of unexpected items like keys, puppets and Snoopy.

The piece's mechanism then flattens the cube, like a puzzle being solved, in order to reveal a military plane flying over the city map. The artist wasn't at the show's opening to explain his intriguing work. What is the link between the plane, keys, puppets and characters glued on the piece?

Onlookers are visually pounded -- from sculptures to paintings -- by the wide diversity of the works exhibited.

Samer Sayem al-Daher's untitled oil-on-canvas works at first seem like an abstract blending of pastel hues.

After a moment's contemplation, however, spectators are confronted by a menagerie of peculiarly creepy, surreal creatures.

Dismembered and unrecognizable, it is difficult to tell whether the figures are human or animal, but the artist's wise use of pastels reduces the eeriness that more somber tones would evoke. Viewers may be drawn to these works not by the forms they depict, but by the balanced dichotomy between the obscure models that inspire the artist and palette he uses to render them.

"Afaq 3" is on display in Beirut Souks' Venue until Aug. 15. For more information, please call 01-989-040 or 01-867-865.

Copyright 2012, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Aug 10, 2012
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