Painting in the Face of War, Cruelty, and Indifference
At the turn of the twenty-first century, I stood in the intimate company of a vast range of my works to face a situation that would force the closing of my studio and divert to storage thousands of works.
With memories still lurking from an earlier catastrophic event when my New York studio was seized and its contents destroyed, I tried to avoid a comparable disaster by dismounting thousands of works and storing them in storage facilities. While this ordeal threw me into a precarious state of putting on hold artistic activities, I carried on with life and work as I have previously done through the many vicissitudes of a laborious and agitated life.
The convergence of constricting events and obstacles stemming from a long standing form of prejudice, repression, and sanctions whose imposition and enforcement by the bureaucratic imperative of alienation, exclusion, suppression denied my work any accommodation or recognition. This complete disregard of the impact, role, and significance of works reflecting important development in contemporary painting, amounted to a cruel form of sanctions propelling me to the outposts of existence to endure hardhsip and various forms of punishment.
If the constraint by the home Authorities was not damaging enough, the one by the Authoritarians of my native land was detrimental . Lebanon, the subject and theme of my work throughout its 15-year Civil War, has no such thing as a museum of contemporary art and has never expressed a need for one. The spacious stage of its theatre of operation is more than sufficient for the display of a wide variety of chaotic engagements and events that engulf the entire area. Its venerated ensemble members hold a continuum of warring exhibitions and performances that embody scenes and acts of applicability beyond the art forms of a metaphysical activity. In the matter of painting, they regard its practice as an extraneous diversion outside the realm of serious affairs. They prefer to ignore it, and confine their time, energy, and attention to the more serious practice of civil and uncivil wars, and the whole paraphernalia of self-indulgence and endless varieties of chaotic events and violence.
In order to recompense whatever contributions I have made elsewhere, they exacted a dear price that brought complete financial ruin to me and to my family. In a scheme designed to alter the outlook of a city exhausted by the devastation of a civil war, they seized and confiscated my property located at the heart of Beirut city center. They razed it to the ground and turned over the land to their own developers who expropriated it and arbitrarily imposed an outrageous fraction of its value. Having deprived of a vital subsistence upon which I depended, they appeared unconcernedly indifferent to the pain they caused as if this is just another ongoing local event that eveyone ought to accept.
The symptoms of decades of disregard and levity toward a soul engrossed in art may reveal a clearer picture through a brief view in retrospect. Over the course of a long period marked by intense hostilities between East and West, standing between the opposite currents of two mutually exclusive cultures encircled a wide gap. The irreconcilable forces of two vastly different regions obstructed access to the art bursting in the middle ground and detached its roots from the respective soils of both. Isolated and trapped in the cold, the works were deprived accommodations in both.
Considered an outsider, stripped my work of its privileges and denied me any consideration whatsoever. While not coveting any reward, I have not been allowed any. On the contrary, my work have been censored, excluded and ignored. In exercising the power of exclusion, the acting art authorities seem to adhere to a formula comparable to the one used by a power that refuses to recognize an entity that it disapproves of or considers illegitimate. While the situation in my case is not dissimilar, it does not appear to offer either disapproval or illegitimacy. In fact some of the most prominent figures representing several prestigious art museums and galleries in New York and elsewhere stood awe-struck when they confronted my canvases. Renowned artists, critics, poets, and scholars found an immense vista unfold before their eyes. In each situation, they all saw a compelling view situated in perfect harmony and relation with the world. The art in all its manifestations revealed the passion, the imagination, the innovation, and the fullness of truth in both the physical and spiritual order of things. These characteristics, however, also constituted traits whose elements were considered disturbing, dangerous and at odds with a commercial society.
During some of my earliest exhibitions in New York, a number of prominent figures in the art world expressed a particular concern in which they feared that the walls of commercial galleries might become frightened by the intensity, fury, and scale of the paintings. Over the course of time, this point of view evinced its reality. In 1974-75, years of works were pushed into the abyss when my New York studio was seized and its contents including over 700 paintings were destroyed.
The sacrificed paintings, however, left deep scars on almost every canvas that I painted thereafter. While those who condemned the works have turned their back and occluded any sight or sound of the buried art, they were unable to prevent the conception and birth of new work. Clinging tenaciously to an inner energy and working under constricting conditions and circumstances in various locations, I carried on with even greater energy transmitting more cataclysmic expressions of human brutalities and suffering on large scale. The proceeding works, however, could not escape further discrimination and punishment throughout their peaks. The circumstances and times spanning the years of their conception through the seventies, eighties, nineties, and two thousands provide an idea about the depressed atmosphere that overhang the air with endless wars and hostilities that go on unabated in threatening our planet, splitting nations and peoples, and assaulting the very essence of humanity. With so much of the turbulence emanating from the near, far and Middle East, the responding art facing them had to be held accountable.
Unwilling to examine revolutionary work whose expressions evoke ideas, experiences and visions that lend critical insights to an important intersection of our time and space, the persecuting authorities eliminated them from view. In espousing the principle of equal rights in the selection of the best and worst works, they seemed quite certain to exclude works whose images appear foreign to biased eyes and disturbing to prejudiced minds. This policy became especially enforceable in the case of a painter pursuing a course outside the apparatus of a commercial system.
Moving independent of any current or trend, the work was taken to different environments where there was no fear of displaying disturbing ideas and visions. Held under the auspices of art institutions and museums in Venezuela and Latin America, a series of exhibitions traveled extensively across four contimentsfor an extended period of time. They created their own relatedness and event exerting an impact that has been felt and noted by a wide circle of viewers. Those who came face to face with the paintings found no barrier that impeded their visions and instincts or one that intimidated their feelings and sensations. They recognized the disparity between works that speak for themselves and those exclusively based on the sayings of others. The documented testimonies of eyewitnesses who upheld their faith in the artworks disclose no confusion or contradiction about their merit and significance. However, neither the expressions of the work nor the affirmation of attestations seem to have any bearing or effect on the imperative of autocrats and bureaucrats acting as connoisseurs and judges. In their capacity as artful authorities avowed to execute justice with eyeful prejudice, they disregarded the confluence of all supporting evidence with unshakable malevolence.
Scorning as beneath their notice any work that has no familiar or famous names, they dispensed with the art as foreign expressions. To prevent excess and access of any such work with too much truth, they proceeded to subdue the conceptions that continue to flow freely and untrammeled by commercial falsification.
In an endeavor to fend-off an impending assault that may bury all evidence of the existence of my work, I undertook the complex task of compiling, photographing and documenting several large series of paintings. While the visual documents allowed some light to be brought to the integrity of the original work and provided some access to them, they were ignored and passed over in silence.
In a situation prolonged and intensified by persistent bias and bureacratic hurdles, the flow of art was arrested while streaming at full pitch.Tons of art works and their author were forced to vacate their space and endure untold amount of anxiety, pain and humiliation. The crude trappings, which once constituted contempt, disdain and derision became a travesty overloaded with injustice, cruelty and indifference.
In a world with so much chaos, brutality, suffering and all sorts of entertainment, how much space can be allocated to works that project a deep and meaningful relationship with the world today?
How many people must be denied access to artistic achievement and contribution to art and culture?
How many yards of canvas transmitting emotions, experiences, and ideas must be suppressed?
How many gallons of paint, intellect, imagination and passion must be obliterated?
How high a price must an artist pay for a breathing space of pure work?
Excerpt from Manifesto - July 14, 2000