Zena Assi is a highly talented Lebanese artist. Born in 1974, Assi graduated from ALBA with honors in advertising. Her works are often featured at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions, most of the time surpassing their high estimates. While Zena has had a variety of themes throughout her art career, it is her ‘Beirut’ series that has greatly appealed to me. I admire Zena for her ability to portray this chaotic, crazy, crowded, and multi-layered city that for what it is. Each one of her ‘Beirut’ collages is unique, and in each work she portrays Beirut at different times throughout the year.
In her Beirut series, the city is jumbled into a crazy mass of concrete buildings, with the occasional tree and Ottoman villa sprinkled in. If one stands back, they notice that the majority of the collage is black and white with several blotches of bright colors. This is reflective of Zena’s native city, which has become a jungle of grey buildings. However if one takes a closer look at her collages, Beirut’s distinct, multi-layered surfaces come to life. One can see the pristine streets of Gemayze, and some of the beautiful, old Ottoman-style villas of Achrafieh and Ras Beirut, with their red-tiled roofs.
The attention to detail in each of her works is remarkable. From the construction cranes dotting the cityscape, to the power lines messily connecting the city’s buildings to one another, Zena captures Beirut in all of its charm. I can compare her work to flying into Beirut’s airport. As the plane descends into Beirut, the city looks like an ugly, colorless, concrete jungle. It is only when passing through the city’s streets, and when taking a much closer look, that you are able to witness the city’s charm, beauty, and mystery.
The attention to detail in Assi’s ‘Beirut’ series is so fine that one is even able to spot laundry hanging from windows. Even though the collage takes a distant view of the city, upon closer inspection I can even make out the apples on a tree; like the city itself, one rarely finds trees in Zena’s ‘Beirut’ works. Zena’s work demonstrates her passion and attachment to her city, and shows us that she has a deep level of understanding of Beirut and all its complexities.
CITYPHILIA by Zena Assi:
To portrait the metropolis, the city, or any urban space nowadays, one has to involve the social, cultural, political angle (to name a few), and to acknowledge a factor of compressed dynamics and pauses, silences and energies, that make the architecture seems vitally, soulfully human. While trying to shape our environment, with its regulations, requirements, and agreements, we end up being shaped ourselves by the structure we’ve built, conformed to its dimensions …
In this collection, I am trying to portray the intertwined relation between the society and its spatial frame, the absurd bond between the city and its inhabitants. And to be able to put a city like Beirut on canvas, one should take into consideration the layers of its history and heritage, the complexity of its social organizations, the diversity of its cultures, and the peculiarity of its universality… in an attempt to finally convey the soul and spirit of its cityscapes.
There is a physical similarity between a citizen of Beirut and the city itself; a certain reciprocal dependency between the capital and its inhabitants… to a point where they merge, lose their singularities and end up forming this body of matter that forms a whole with no definable shape. Is it a convergence phenomenon, or a contagious one? Is it the result of an artificial product of administrated modern life or just a search for identity? Is it orchestrated or unconscious?
Be what it may, I believe there is a certain debt man has to pay over the years to the city he lives in… an ancient pact that ties the two of them, a certain unspoken deal that each will fulfill his pledge when the other is in need…
Man should breathe his city, take roots from it, have it under his skin and all over his being… have his feet on its grounds but always his head in its clouds…
Still Nature, by Art Sawa:
Originating in the middle ages and ancient Greek Roman art, a still life or a ‘nature morte’ is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter…
In this latest body of works, the literal dualism between the so called ‘still life’ and the ‘nature morte’ is reinterpreted in order to raise few questions:
First ,when does a life stop being still and becomes ‘morte’ dead?
Secondly , where is the thin red line between the two?
The genre is expanded beyond the boundaries of a frame.
The still life becomes a vehicle for explorations in order to reveal both the physical structure and the emotional subtext of our contemporary society.
Both bouquets and sitting sculptures are rendered as stagnating life forms containing a social allegorical symbolism relating to an actual Lebanese situation. When the society is resigned to sit and wait, when they let go of their freedom of choice and their will to act, don’t they take the highest form of life and relegate it to the very lowest order of life form? A lifeless life form?
Assi is born in 1974, Tripoli, Lebanon. Lives and works in Beirut, Lebanon. Assi’ sharply defined portraits of still impression elongated and often melancholic figures of young men and women call for attention alongside her cluttered cityscapes that are crammed with wires, television antennas and buildings stacked precariously on top of one another. Her canvasses are filled with interwoven lines set against bold fields of colour abstractions. Lines of varied width and texture swirl rhythmically beyond the picture plane thus echoing the sense of a dynamic energy.
Zena Assi never makes preparatory sketches and instead begins by priming her canvases directly. The base layer is created using mixed media followed by adding different textures and materials; tissue paper, cloth, broken brushes to name a few. The result is contrasting layers of thick impasto. The artist often finishes off with a layer of oil colours which give her canvasses their peculiar, vigorous luminosity.
Some other works by Zena:
Zena Assi Information:
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Works sold at:
Dubai: Art Sawa
Beirut: Alwane Art Gallery