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"Salon" Culture in Lebanon

Art & CommunityPosted by Makram Aboul Hosn Mon, May 23, 2016 11:05:28
"A modern iteration of the traditional literary salon, Salon London organizes monthly gatherings showcasing experts in the world of science, the arts and psychology." (Retreived from Four Seasons Magazine) - Photograpy Helen Abraham

Now that I’m near the end of my Masters program and my experience in Europe, I am beginning to think of what comes afterwards. Looking at my classmates, some want to stay in Europe and pursue their careers other to New York to do the same... As for me, I feel drawn to go back home to Lebanon for an indefinite period of time.

It is a little odd that I feel this attraction now, especially when I remember that I had originally fled the situation I was in before coming to Europe. Political tensions, wide-spread corruption, rare readiness for developing new ideas and other factors had been suffocating me for a while and I needed to get out. So in a way, I could consider myself an “Educational Refugee”. Meaning that I was seeking asylum from the lack of inspiration and continuous frustration in Lebanon and pursuing higher education at the same time.

Two main ideas draw me back to Lebanon:

The first is that I can see the birth of a new movement. The coalition of intellectual, well-traveled and fresh thinking individuals under banners such as “You Stink”, a campaign that attempted to dissolve the current corrupt government which has failed to deal with the garbage crisis for almost an entire year now. “Beirut Madinati” was another one of these banners that aimed to win the Beirut municipal elections and promised a lot of reformations. Thought they did not win, they sure breathed a lot of hope into our youth. It’s a promising sign to see that these people have gathered together and have not lost enthusiasm despite severe opposition.

The second is that I now realize that our little country, despite all the turmoil, is home to many serious, talented and capable artists/writers/film-makers/poets/sculptures/musicians, etc... Knowing this makes me look forward to go back and develop relationships and collaborations with whatever combinations we can come up with.

Perhaps being in a music school surrounded by musicians and some artists from our neighboring Minerva Art Academy developed my understanding of working together and helping each other express certain ideas in order to realize certain works. The concern with personal gains from these collaborations was always secondary to all participants, which is an essential attribute.

Yet in Lebanon, I rarely felt that. Artists more or less stayed within their little circles and felt the necessity to be faithful to these circles to avoid any conflict of interests. What do I mean exactly? Well in the music scene for example, there were sort of alliances between musicians that dictated who collaborated with whom. Also, many musicians would get offended if they were replaced or if other projects were created without them. That is certainly detrimental to building a greater collective artistic community, which should be the goal. People of the arts should not be made to feel hesitant to ask each other for reasonable favors. They should not be offended if they are not called for certain projects, because it is not always a matter of merit or skill; it is important to realize that a collaboration between person A and person B, will produce something clearly different than one between person A and person C. And so, artistic diversity should also be encouraged.

I now imagine how beautiful it will be if we could come together as artists from different fields as our counterparts from “You stink” and “Beirut Madinati” have done for political aims. Why is this important to me? Because, I think it is the one thing that can create a solid “Lebanese” art scene. I feel we still lack common identity in our art. When people of the arts come together, a sharing of ideas and philosophies takes place. Ideally, these individuals would express whatever they are thinking to each other and discuss matters in order to develop things further, not to prove each other right or wrong. This would consequently create a “Salon” (click for further explanation from Wikipedia). Writers would influence musicians. Film-makers would inspire dancers. Painters would discuss aesthetics with sculptures and so on. A Salon, or Tertulia in Spanish, is a frequent social gathering of artists who are willing to share their work and discuss artistic concepts with one another.

Growing up in the little village of Btekhnay, I was fortunate to have an uncle and aunt (Jamal Aboul Hosn and Intisar Azzam) who were both artists and would occasionally host their friends and acquaintances under their roof. People would mingle, musicians would play, and artists would show their work. That was the closest thing I’ve seen to a Salon. My aim now is have my generation of artists involved in this. Naturally, this sort of gathering can and should be expanded to involve artists from all nationalities. If you live in Lebanon or just visiting, then you are welcome to join. If there is one idea behind this, it is the bringing of new ideas and the readiness to break old patterns and habits of thinking. Thus having strict requirements as to who can or cannot join is counter-productive.

So that is the strong vision that has been occupying my mind recently. It is no secret that we, as human beings not just artists, cannot get much done by ourselves; we need each others’ support. Building this Salon culture can and will bring us closer under banners different from religions and political parties and so it will influence our audiences to do the same. And that, more than anything else, makes going back home something to look forward to.

- Makram

Edited by: Intisar Azzam

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