The scent of eucalyptus pervades and triggers a sense of disorientation as you enter a space that has been gutted and is raw. A series of seven vivid paintings line the back walls, stark against scraped cement brick.
A stretch of dried eucalyptus leaves carpet the floor, and a headless, luminous yellow figure sits central, knees to chest. It has been made from clothes dipped in resin, plaster and paint.
The full front of the exhibition is a stretch of paneled glass window offering full exposure to the instillation and paintings in Beirut’s upscale Downtown, near the Beirut New Waterfront. This is an art space par excellence, a empty high-end shop, hunted down independently by Lebanese painter Randa Ali Ahmad to house her latest exhibition, “Arab Spring.”
“Feel free to walk on the eucalyptus,” she says. The dried leaves crack and exhale underfoot. “Eucalyptus is a symbol of change and protection. We breathe the Arab Spring in every day. Whether we like it not, it is here in our lives,” she says.
Born in Beirut in 1962, Ahmad started her pursuit of art with small street exhibits in Beirut’s Makhoul Street during her teenage years, and continued the shows up to her college years at the Lebanese American University. During the Civil War, she went on to receive diplomas in design and studio arts from UCLA in Los Angeles, California.
Her first exhibit was in a gallery in Beverly Hills, after which she went on to Paris and Beirut and has received numerous awards. Since 2000 she has had an exhibition every year.
“I try to look at the positive. I refuse to work negatively,” she says. Her dynamic brushstrokes and bold use of color fused with the multisensory experience she produces confirm this assertion, but a strong sense of irony seems to pervade throughout.
The first of the series, “Peaceful Shield,” depicts multicolored sandbags covered in jasmine. It seems to be a continuation of work she did in a previous exhibition in 2010 called “The Scent of Jasmine” before Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution” of 2011. Working with layers of acrylic that she applies first with her feet, up until the final layer of circular strokes which she achieves through a variety of techniques, Ahmad leaves a richness of pallet that one would usually associate with oil.
The second in the series, “Can I tell you a Secret,” is a blown up acrylic painting of a blonde, holding her finger to her mouth in a tantalizing “shooosh!” An overt message to inform us that we are engaging with something subversive, perhaps. The continuation of circular swoops saves it from a crash into pop art.
The “Operating Room,” is an unexpected depiction of a team of well equipped doctors in an operating theater doing their job in clean professionalism. No blood, and no gore. And once again, there is a continuation of circular, successive brushstrokes. “Circles symbolize the circle of life. Continuity,” she explains.
Figures are bidding in the stock market, in “Keep The Bulls Market,” where individual identity is abstracted by busy movement. Energy and dynamism is captured in the expression of brushstroke and continuation of circular surface texture. There is a buildup of momentum, intensity and chaos.
Actual bulls, a full frontal stampede of them, take over “Let the Bulls Out.” Red, orange and black, circular swoops sweep the chaos of bulls’ horns and hoofs in a work that is a release of forces. Momentum is intensified in this high-quality expressionism.
“Pervasion” is a bird’s-eye view of a crowd in seeming celebration. It is as unaggressive as “Let the Bulls Out” is forceful, as bodies swirl in dizzy whites and indigo violets from a giddying arial perspective of hands, heads and hankies. The work is deeply fresh.
Back at the installation in the space’s center, the contemplative, headless yellow figure sits isolated and still on the carpet of eucalyptus leaves, clad in Western shirt and trainers. It leaves the visitor with a sense of the vulnerability of hope.
Ahmad’s “Arab Spring” is an accumulation of the development of 10 years of work. Ahmad is a highly independent artist with a unique talent and imagination for how to work with paint – this is her strength.
This sequence of images can only provoke the visitor to connect, question and fill in the gaps left by this unusual play of subversive forces, both personal and global, that the artist has intuited from the currents of the Arab Spring. Ahmad’s exhibit leaves the visitor with an ever greater sense of anticipation.
“I am not here to give people solutions” Ahmad states, “just to make people wonder what is going on.”
“Chaos is not good, not bad.” she says, but asks: “How long are they going to stay in control of this chaos once the bulls are out?”
“Arab Spring” is being shown at the Karigulla Building, Downtown, near the Beirut New Waterfront until Jan. 28 and is by appointment only. For more information, call 03-734-444.