Academics gather to discuss a pillar of Lebanese modern art

Sally Abou Melhem <sa256@aub.edu.lb> Office of Communications​​​​​​​​​

AUB Art Galleries and Collections and the Syndicat des Artistes Plasticiens Libanais (syndicate of Lebanese visual artists), held a round table panel discussion around the Lebanese artist Khalil Saleeby (1870-1928), one of the founders of modern art in Lebanon, on the evening of March 19, 2019 at the AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery.

Saleeby’s art is known to have played a part in a critical phase of the development of art in Lebanon during the late 19th and early 20th century. Saleeby was one of the first painters in the country who contributed in presenting art as an occupation, becoming a pioneer in this profession during a time when the region was going through drastic social, political, and economic transformations.

At the event venue, 35 paintings by Khalil Saleeby were displayed, exhibiting traces of these changes. These paintings are part of a collection donated to AUB by a distant relative of Saleeby after they had been kept in a private residence for over 80 years.

Panelists included, from AUB Art Galleries and Collections, Director Rico Franses and Curator Octavian Esanu. Dr. Kirsten Scheid, associate professor of anthropology at the department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Media Studies at AUB also joined the discussion.

Participating in the panel discussion on behalf of the syndicate were Dr. Nizar Daher, professor of fine arts at the Lebanese University and syndicate president; Dr. Elias Dib, professor of fine arts at the Lebanese University; and doctoral candidate Nadine Zahreddine, a syndicate board member.

The panel discussion began with an introduction to the AUB Saleeby art collection by Franses. Daher then spoke about the role of the syndicate of artists in the redefinition and commemoration of Lebanese artists. Following that was a presentation by Zahreddine, about Saleeby’s biography, influences, and connections, as well as the different stages of his artistic development. 

In his turn, Dib spoke about the aesthetics of the body and the new freedom of expression in the works of Saleeby providing a view of his portraiture and nudity. Scheid’s presentation was on “national heritage or outmoded Ottomans? The controversy of Saleeby, Gibran and peers at the 1941 Salon des Amis des Arts.” And finally, Esanu wrapped up the discussion by sharing a presentation with the panelists and audience about the first exhibition of the Saleeby collection that took place at AUB back in 2013. The panel discussion was followed by a conversation with the audience.

“One of the reasons this event is important is that it begins the process of re-evaluating one of the major figures of Lebanese art, Khalil Saleeby,” said Franses.  “Although he is a well-known figure, he has never really been subject to intensive academic study that go beyond the narratives of his life story.” He added that during the event, the speakers began discussing his paintings in a detailed fashion, posing questions that will certainly lead to a new understanding of his work in general.

Another reason why the panel discussion was of great value, Franses explained, is there was “a large crowd of about 70 people, consisting of students, faculty, and many outside visitors who came to the gallery for the first time, brought by our co-organizers, the Syndicat des Artistes Plasticiens Libanais.” He continued, “The discussion afterward showed that there is much to be gained from such events that bring together those interested in art from many different perspectives and backgrounds.”