At some point in life, we come to realize that when and where we were born matters. In Lebanon, being born in or around the mid-1970s meant coming of age during that country’s civil war, which raged from 1975 to 1990. This was the case for each of the artists included in “Thin Skin: Six Artists from Beirut” at Taymour Grahne Gallery, who have fed their experiences of the war, and its resonances in their contemporary urban lives, into the expressive paintings on view. Curated by Saleh Barakat, the exhibition features works by Ayman Baalbaki, Mohamad-Said Baalbaki, Oussama Baalbaki, Tagreed Darghouth, Omar Fakhoury, and Nadia Safieddine, all of whom live in Lebanon’s capital city. Its title refers figuratively to the skin of the artists as well as that of their city: at once protective and porous, whole and scarred by war.
With varying degrees of directness and abstraction, the artists center their work upon Beirut and the dark complexities by which it has been shaped. In two gridded compositions by Tagreed Darghouth, one from the series “Nuclear Craters” (2013) and Big Brother (2013), the marks of war take different forms. As its title indicates, the former painting is a chilling taxonomy of nuclear craters, voids in the earth presented from varying vantage points. The latter compositions feature an array of the city’s omnipresent security cameras, promising (or threatening) stability and safety. Nadia Safieddine centers her roiling, semi-abstract works on people, as in Living Room (2013). Here a man and woman appear to hold their hurt child across their knees, their faces contorted in anguish at the tragic incursions of war and terror in their home. The city becomes a fortress in Omar Fakhoury’s “Self Defense” series (2014), in which red-and-white-striped concrete bunkers and barriers replace civilian architecture, some bearing an image of the storied cedars of Lebanon, the prized and fragrant trees that once lushly blanketed the country.
Perhaps the most skin-like works in the exhibition are the oil-on-board “Heap” paintings (2012-14) by Mohamad-Said Baalbaki. Arranged into semi-abstract piles in the center of each composition are suitcases, clothing, and other vaguely recognizable bits of domestic detritus. Rendered in hues of violet, pink, red, and brown, these sad mounds recall the bundled possessions carried by refugees, and hint, with their flesh tones, at the war’s terrible body count.
“Thin Skin: Six Artists from Beirut” is on view at Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York, June 3rd–July 2nd, 2014.