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Sami Basbous peels back Batroun's history.

Summary: "I was in Burj Hammoud and I saw this art deco building that was in such a state that I thought they would get rid of it and build something else," Sami Basbous told The Daily Star.

BATROUN, Lebanon: "I was in Burj Hammoud and I saw this art deco building that was in such a state that I thought they would get rid of it and build something else," Sami Basbous told The Daily Star. "It was such a beautiful building and I was wondering if it was an old movie theater from the '30s. There was a poster and I kept peeling and peeling back the layers until I got to the last one."This is among the stories from the creation of Basbous' "Batroun, from Sea to Mountains," an exhibition that takes inspiration from the heavily papered walls found in Beirut and his hometown of Batroun, by peeling back decades of posters and ads to uncover the history.

"I made a painting out of all the layers and added this face," he said, gesturing to "Au Bout du Film," an image of a glamorous women emerging from the torn, decaying edges of posters advertising various things. "I asked my framer, who is Armenian, and he said it says 'presenting a movie with the actress.' Something must have been there from years ago about a lost film that was shown in this theater."

Showing at Villa Paradiso in Batroun, Basbous has combined the real with the imaginary by using the peeled posters as a launching pad for his paintings, painting over these backgrounds and adding his own readings.

"I work on the street and sometimes its 30 minutes, sometimes two hours," he said. "I take good photos, print them and work over them in my workshop. I tape myself on the street to get the essence of what I'm sensing and what's happening, which might all be in my head, but it's what I'm feeling."

"I'm basically channeling what I'm feeling through these paintings and I also listen to my own music while painting, which also influences it," he added. "All these characters and portraits are what I felt the place was, as if I could [make] them into a person."

Basbous left Lebanon to the U.S. in 1999 pursuing a diverse cultural career - from writing music for MAC cosmetics ads to publishing poetry. He returned to Lebanon in 2017, seeking to reconnect with his roots. "When I came back to Lebanon this just jumped at me," Basbous said. "I looked at the posters and there is so much beauty in them but there's also a lot of ugliness. People don't even look at them, because some of them are pretty ugly. They really pollute some walls, which are themselves beautiful and old.

"At the same time, this is Lebanon and it's the story of our country ... I wanted to render something that gives [the posters] life and see the beauty in them," he added. "It documents the character of the place and sometimes when you peel these walls. "The first wall could be about something like a festival. Then you peel back and have the history of something that happened in church, then a photo of a martyr, or a ad for renting in this area."

During his project, Basbous noticed cultural and social differences between the areas, depending on what was pasted onto the walls. He spent time in Beirut, Burj Hammoud, Nabaa, Manara and Batroun.

"You go to Nabaa, which is a very popular neighborhood and is very interesting in itself, but nobody goes there and finds it interesting," he said. "If you look at the posters and what they're talking about, it's usually things like 'This person died' or trying to sell things and small festivals organized by the church or mosque there.

"You will never see an art poster there or some gallery opening," he added. "You see things about selling muscle cars. You can tell the stories of the people and what is happening in their neighborhood.

"The posters in Batroun are more to do with events and church gatherings, also some subtle political things, the openings of new stores and hotels," he continued, "so you have the mix of the old and the new."

The exhibition is accompanied by planned live performances from Basbous, presenting music from his upcoming album - set to release end of the year - inspired by this project.

"I'm a composer, lyricist and writer too so I'll be singing and performing my own music and there will be some storytelling," he said.

"I think everything is interlinked. If I'm painting, I'm also thinking about the music that would go with the story of this."

"Batroun, from Sea to Mountains" is showing at Villa Paradiso, Batroun until April 13.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Apr 10, 2019
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