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War-themed art is as popular as ever in Lebanon, but many are tired of the fixation on their country's troubled history.
Beirut Art Center Director Sandra Dagher says war is such a common theme in Lebanese art because the country and its artists are still dealing with such issues.
“It’s normal that artists work in the context of where they live,” Dagher said. “And all of us are still living the traumas of the war. It ended 15 years ago officially, but we still live in the tension. And every time there’s new political tension, people go into this flashback of what happened. I think people don’t talk enough about the war.”
But Dagher says Western curators are guilty of picking from Lebanese and Arab artists' portfolios to choose work that has created a kind of neo-Orientalism that fitted with certain Western misperceptions, projections and preconceived notions of the Middle East. Joy Mardini of Beirut’s Espace Kettaneh-Kunigk gallery says it is unfortunate that Western interest in Lebanese and Arab art revolves around the commercialization of violence and war. But, she says, “war is sexy,” and it sells, if only for the moment.
“I think we’re going to get to the point, five years from now, 10 years from now, when people are going to be fed up and artists are going to feel it, and they’re going to change," she said. "It is a wave, like art deco or art nouveau."
But artist Akram Zaatari says he hopes war-themed art is not simply a phase, and fears criticism of such works could scare people away from exploring the subject.
“I’m afraid of people being marginalized, because the serious work has not even started on the civil war,” he said. “I’m worried about the ones who tell me we had enough, because the terrain has not even opened up. What you have heard until today is really nothing. Personally, I have not opened the files for the Lebanese civil war because I do not know where to start.”