Michel El Daher opened the South Border Gallery four years ago. Located in the Renno building, on Rue Gouraud (aka Gemmayzeh main street), the space promotes Hispanic artists and also Latin American painters of Lebanese origin.
Q: What Lebanese artists do you represent?
A: I represent Aisar Jalil. He is a Lebanese [emigrant] to Cuba ... He is now working in Miami for one year. His works are exhibited in New York and at Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum. I represent him exclusively.
[We also represent the late] Fayad Jamis, but some of his best pieces [are in the gallery]. His parents are from south Lebanon, [but] he was born in Mexico. He is like the Khalil Gibran of Cuba, more a poet than an artist. His works are exhibited in Algeria. His pieces are difficult to get because he’s better known as a writer.
[We represent nonagenarian artist] Judith Lauand. [Thought born in Brazil herself,] her parents are from northern Lebanon. Her works are [displayed] in many museums and she will have four of her pieces in [this year’s] Beirut Art Fair. She does linear abstract work. She has Parkinson’s Disease – she shakes – but once she’s painting, she stops shaking. She is brilliant.
Jorge Dager, [another of my artists,] is a self-taught painter. We will have his work exhibited [at the Beirut Art Fair]. He is in the biggest private collections in Venezuela.
[There is also] Nicole Mouracade, who left Lebanon during the Civil War [who] will also be showing pieces [at the Beirut Art Fair].
Q: Do you have any exhibitions planned for the coming year? Which artists are involved? Are these solo shows or group shows?
A: I will be going to the Rio Art fair, and – if I have time – I will be doing the Sao Paulo Art Fair, which is very big.
Q: Do you find you make more sales at the fairs or at free-standing (solo and group) exhibitions?
A: [We sell more] in private shows, with people who started working with us without knowing us. We have many young collectors. This is new. The percentage of people who collected art in Lebanon was small. Now, it is improving. Many of our clients are not looking for decorative art. They are looking for art. People are more aware of what is art production, of how to collect art and where to start. There is still lot to be done. But it is improving.
Q: How has the market for Lebanese artists changed over the years?
A: Lebanese are much more opened than people think, because of all the cultures. They are willing to learn and to make an attempt, whereas in Europe it is much harder ... Lebanese accept eroticism and nudity [in art], things that before they would not have bought. We surprised everyone by showing there was a big market for it [in Lebanon].
The market is still very young in Lebanon. But there is a problem with the prices. People are not willing to pay high amounts to buy a painting, because painting was not originally in our culture. We were known [in the region] for carpets, porcelain and architecture, but not for paintings. Now, Lebanese are like sponges, they accept new cultures and new ideas.
Q: How do you decide which work by your Lebanese artists are worthy of international exhibition?
A: I don’t have any specific criteria. I just promote young emerging artists.
Q: Is it possible to generalize about the characteristics “Lebanese” or “Arab” art that makes it distinct from work being made elsewhere in the world nowadays?
A: Because of the Civil War, Lebanese have emigrated all over the world. So they accept everything, they are open to cultures. There is a place for everyone is this market. What also influence art in the Middle East are the prices. People are not willing to go above certain ranges of prices. This is our target. We are not looking for big names. Other galleries will do it. We are looking for young talented artists ... People don’t buy ugly faces or sadness. They want happiness.