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Reem Bassous: Beyond Beirut

noe tanigawa
noe tanigawa

  Painter Reem Bassous was born in Beirut, Lebanon where a civil war raged from 1975 to 1990.  It’s estimated almost a million people fled the country, and up to one hundred fifty thousand were killed.   Though the war was officially over twenty six years ago, many, like Bassous, are struggling to come to terms with what they’ve been through.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.

“Beirut is a crazy kind of Beautiful.”

Painter Reem Bassous says Beirut is cosmopolitan in ways we can’t imagine, with trendy discos for example, alongside a two thousand year old Roman bath.

“It’s a very layered city and that’s one of the things I’ve tried to show in this work.”

Mostly wall size paintings comprise Bassous’ current show, “Beyond the Archive”, so titled because of the voluminous research Bassous does to prepare for painting.  These works are a deep dive into her past, into her experiences of the Lebanese Civil War since age 4.

“I do remember these nights when we would have to run to the shelter and I remember looking up at the sky and seeing what looked like fireworks they were so beautiful!  I kept thinking, Ok, don’t trip, don’t trip, just keep going!”

“They did have a lot of car bombs and they had street fighting, they had missiles flying all over the place and because we lived next to a military base, we were the target of heavy missile fighting.”

During the war, cargo ships would be bombed off shore, many filled with livestock, cattle who would be swept into the sea—Bassous dreams of floating amongst the bloated animals and debris.

“Lately there’s been a modification to the dream where I see all these national treasures sinking next to me.”  Sinking down around her.

Honolulu Museum of Art
Credit Honolulu Museum of Art
Reem Bassous, "Memory for Forgetfulness," acrylic on canvas

“As the series came to an end, I have this near obsession with wanting to depict what this… creature looks like that has been living in a state of warfare continuously.   And I use the word creature because I really feel that people living in that situation have lost their humanity.  You are not a healthy and normal human being.  I’m really interested in trying to define what this creature would manifest itself as, through paint.”

Who are we? What have we become?  What have we done to the land?

“Reem Bassous:   Beyond the Archive” continues at the Honolulu Museum of Art through March 27th

Reem Bassous uses paint, thick impasto, scratches, swipes, layers slathered then stripped to signify her home, Beirut, and her self.  And others, too, who are they?  Inseparable from the landscape, their skins are shells, like the bombed out buildings.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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