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Middle East Institute Art Gallery opens virtual show
Badr Safadi (b. 1966, Lebanon; lives in Tripoli, Lebanon), Dusk, October 18, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Middle East Institute Arts and Culture Center announced the launch of Lebanon Then and Now: Photography from 2006 to 2020 on view from July 13, 2020 through September 25, 2020. The immersive, 360° virtual exhibition takes visitors on a tour through the MEI Art Gallery to experience the works of 17 photographers and one filmmaker who capture the dizzying social, political, and economic developments that have marked Lebanon over the past decade and a half.

“Through the lens of some of Lebanon’s finest photographers, the exhibit tells the story of the tensions and the unresolved issues that led to the current crisis in Lebanon, and of the protests that have rocked Lebanon for the past eight months in response to the country’s political and financial collapse,” said Lyne Sneige, the director of the Middle East Institute’s Arts and Culture Center.

Originally planned as a physical show until the pandemic caused the MEI Art Gallery to temporarily close, Lebanon Then and Now was co-produced by MEI in collaboration with its Paris and Beirut-based partners. It presents under one virtual roof selections from two seminal shows: Lebanon: Between Reality and Fiction, which opened in Paris in September 2019 and Revolt, which opened in Beirut two months later. The Institut du Monde Arabe show, Lebanon Then and Now, explores the aftermath of Lebanon’s long civil war (1975-1990) through the lens of its social, urban and geographic realities, while Revolt, organized by the Beirut Center of Photography and the Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon (APEAL), captures the street protests that erupted on October 17, 2019 over Lebanon’s political and financial mismanagement.

“The repositioning of the two shows into one cohesive exhibition allows us to further the understanding of both the historical past and Lebanon today,” said Kate Seelye, Vice President for Arts and Culture at the Middle East Institute. “Additionally, this show speaks to the importance of international collaborations, as galleries like ours seek to replace — temporarily at least — physical audiences with an online global community.”

Beirut-based curator Chantale Fahmi brings the Paris and Beirut shows into a dialogue with each other, creating a visual storyline that provides insight into the origins of the current crisis and links it to the uprising of the Lebanese in the face of their country’s political and financial crisis. Collectively, the images demonstrate the power of photography — from art photography to photojournalism — to capture the different realities and emotions that have led Lebanon to this challenging moment in time.

“Lebanon’s photography scene has been developing in exciting ways over the past decade,” says Fahmi. “Art photographers, like Dalia Khamissy and Myriam Boulos, have found a receptive environment and expansive arts infrastructure to nurture their work. At the same time, documentary photographers have benefited from Beirut’s active and relatively free press sector, as well as the fact that the city has long hosted international news agencies who often rely upon local talent, like Marwan Tahtah and Emilie Madi, for insight and images.”

Rita Nammour, chairperson of the Beirut Museum of Art, USA and president of APEAL, says Lebanon Then and Now could not be more timely. “We are living in a nightmare; Lebanon’s currency has been devalued by 80% and poverty is soaring. Although the dreams expressed in the early days of the protests have been shattered, I am hopeful the images in this exhibition can remind the world of Lebanon’s aspirations for a better future.”

Featured artists: Lamia Maria Abillama, Pierre Aboujaoude, Vladimir Antaki, Hussein Beydoun, Myriam Boulos, Ieva Saudargaite Douaihi, Blanche Eid, Maria Kassab, Dalia Khamissy, Jana Khoury, Emilie Madi, Vicky Mokbel, Elias Moubarak, Tanino Musso, Badr Safadi, Jack Seikaly, Omar Sfeir, and Marwan Tahtah

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