Friday, April 4, 2014

To wonderland and back - Ghaleb Cabbabe's "Ahlein".

 Dulica from Sri Lanka
All images copyrighted to Ghaleb Cabbabé

Ghaleb Cabbabé will be opening his exhibition at the Byblos Bank Headquarters on Tuesday April 8th, titled Ahlein or “welcome”, it will be the first solo by Cabbabé who is the laureate of Byblos Bank Award for Photography 2013. The exhibition which is curated by BEIRUT ART FAIR, displays 20 photos artistically capturing the daily and social lives of foreigners in Lebanon.
Beirut/NTSC – catching wind of the vent – caught up with Cabbabé to probe his itinerary which eventually got him to this exhibition. Interestingly, on his website his journey starts as being a "happy boy" shooting giraffes to "wanting to be a happy man" preparing for his first solo implicitly implying that somewhere along the line “the happiness” (whatever his definition of it may be) had left him. Almost correcting me, he tries to explain that “what happened in the meantime is a journey, motivated by curiosity and the constant will and need to discover new places and experience diversity. The “happiness” didn’t really leave as it has always been an objective, a point of reference. Every move in both literal and figurative meaning I've made started with the feeling that it was fading.”
Well, when he speaks of “move” little does one expect that in involves Afghanistan, or Congo among other places. But perhaps this is only a reflection of his own diverse background. He graduated with a degree in Architecture from the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA) in 2003 and from HEC Paris in 2004. His passion and perseverance led him to enroll in a photography program at the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague.
Trying to probe the correlation between the two elements – a diversified career and a stint in the art world, Cabbabé elaborates “I worked for the ICRC (International Red Cross Committee) as it was the best way to combine two major points: a gratifying and meaningful job and the opportunity to discover and live in new thrilling places. The “living” aspect is key for me as I find it much more interesting and enriching than visiting a place as a tourist.”
But life, was not just based on art, it also included a full logistic element, something he clarifies “As an Administrator, I was in charge of the support to the field operations in places such as Afghanistan, South Sudan, Congo and Sri Lanka. This fulfilling experience has probably affected my artistic trajectory on many levels, even “unconscious” ones.” 
“I believe it was definitely enriching to imprint in my mind new people, sceneries, images and colors, but it mainly allowed me to have a better and deeper understanding of what is really important and relevant in life, and how this can vary from a place or a person to another. I think that this point is essential as I feel that the impact of art is amplified when it expresses and touches the essence of things.”
His many wanderings however, gave me clue that – perhaps like the rest of us – he suffers from a love-hate affair with Beirut and the concept of roots at large. It's as if this city has a pull on him, from which he needs constant breathers to remain afloat. Could his "running away" a better way" to come back"?
“I don’t think that I would be able to express this feeling with better words than yours. Ironically, it secures me to know that I’d always be able to come back when I leave and leave once I’m back” he replies.
But what Cabbabé has in restlessness, the people he depicts in “Ahlein” as foreigners living in Lebanon seem more sedentary and rooted that he is. Actually "Ahlein", when compared to his other projects in his career, marks a certain conceptual departure even if all of such projects are about "creatures in their habitat". The people of Ahlein seem to have have found home.
Cabbabé seems less categorical on this point, “It has always been difficult for me to sort photography projects in boxes or categories. For example, there’s sometimes a very thin line between conceptual and documentary photography. But the distinction is not important to me.
He then furthers his rationale by saying “depending on the context, what matters most is to tell a story, puzzle, raise a question or simply express a feeling or share a message. Ideally, in a genuine, consistent and innovative way.”
“These people are in different situations and mindsets, because they obviously came to Lebanon from various places and for different reasons. Some of them are here for constraining financial and professional reasons while others are mainly enjoying life or looking for artistic inspiration in an “exotic” destination. In a way, the main thing that they have in common could be that their sedentary status is fragile. I feel that most of them, again for different reasons, could leave the country at any moment, which makes their presence even more precious.”
Naturally, I had to ask him what comes next, Cabbabé deadpans: “Well, time will tell. I’ve never managed to make long-term plans, and when I did, things didn’t really go… as planned.”
Nada Tawil, in her capacity of Head of Group Communication Department at Byblos Bank commented on the event saying: “Ghaleb’s topic is relatively difficult and doesn’t necessarily align with the norms prevailing in parts of our society. The exhibition is challenging, the art featured requires maturity; yet, the ensemble is an intelligent way through which we can build tolerance and reach a better society.”
Pascal Odille, Artistic Director of BEIRUT ART FAIR, thought that “Ghaleb Cabbabé tells us a story; he gives us an intimate and honest vision ever so close to reality. His work, a mix between a photoreport and a photographic diary, is a dive in the daily lives of those who surround us, with no voyeurism and a lot of delicacy.”
In parallel with Cabbabé’s exhibition, three seminars will be given by Mr. Odille at Byblos Bank Headquarters, from 9 to 11 April 2014, about the history and evolution of photography, as well as its evolving market in light of the increasing demand from enthusiasts and collectors.
Ahlein, Ghaleb Cabbabé’s exhibition at Byblos Bank Headquarters, is open to the public between Wednesday 9 and Friday 11 April, from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, and on Saturday, 12 April, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

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