Lebanon's Modern and Contemporary Art Museum
Last week, I spent the better half of a day becoming acquainted with the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum of Lebanon situated on the hills above Qartaba in a town called Alita. A mere seven-minute drive from the freeway, this art sanctuary is nestled in a pristine cradle of verdant Lebanese nature overlooking the Adonis Valley and the Mediterranean Sea.
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|MACAM is nestled in the hills of Alita above Qartaba
How is it we never hear of these wonderful bastions of art, culture, and creativity that decorate our storied landscape?
Allow me to fill you in. The story of MACAM begins with a sprightly art lover and prolific writer named Cesar Nammour. For years, Cesar, now 81, found himself collecting and storing art pieces that would otherwise have been cast into the dark dungeons of oblivion. With no appointed home or master, these relics needed a foster parent to preserve and oversee their safekeeping.
Eventually, Cesar was actively sought out by artists to adopt their artwork, and tight on space, he set his sights on a decommissioned factory in Alita. Thus, in 2013 MACAM came to be, spread across a vast 4,000 square meters that is home to hundreds of sculptures, installations, and video art. This art is contributed by over 100 different artists from around the world who can trace their ancestry to Lebanon.
|Concrete partitions like these dot the Beiruti landscape, particularly in the downtown area
|Replica of an old, abandoned residence
Cesar and his partner, Gabriela Schaub, who hails from the Black Forest of Germany, reside on the premises and are wholly dedicated to this art haven. The modern art category counts ceramics as well as stone, metal, and wood sculptures. The contemporary collection predominantly comprises installations, designed to make a bold statement and better suited as exhibits for display purposes.
|Nada Sehnaoui's "To Sweep" installation art (2011)
MACAM is by no means a passive experience where art is beheld and admired. On the contrary, Cesar’s objective from the get-go is to invite children to the space and encourage their imaginations to run wild. An atelier to that end packs in all kinds of objects we’d deem useless – plastic water bottles, cardboard rolls, trinkets, and general knickknacks – where kids are encouraged to construct their own 3-D artwork. In addition, tours and workshops are organized for appropriate age levels tailored to visiting school classes and summer campers.
|Kids' creative workspace
|It is evident that children's imaginations know no limits!
It is imperative to note that MACAM’s archive department holds a treasure trove of information about art in Lebanon. The Recto Verso Library in Beirut features a sizeable collection of books on art, and the museum itself pays homage to the memory of art through careful documentation and archiving.
As I slowly weaved my way through the exhibits last week, I made it a point to read the profiles of the artists and couldn’t help but notice that many of them are not formally educated or trained in the fine arts! Some discovered their passion midway through a career in a technical or scientific domain. In fact, our clay instructor May Abboud, who led a workshop on pottery at the close of the tour and whose art appears in the Ceramics wing of MACAM, was a professor of mathematics at the Lebanese American University. This only reinforces the idea that we have much to learn and explore about ourselves, our hobbies and our interests, regardless of age, academic background, or creed.
I highly encourage you and your families to spend a day browsing MACAM. The location is a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, and you’ll feel cathartically purged just taking in the air, landscape, and scenery. The museum is no doubt a refuge in its own right, a tribute to the slogan that “Art lives here” in this permanent dwelling, art that, in Cesar’s eloquent words, “comes into being…and breathes life into us at every encounter.”
|Cesar Nammour believes that each piece of art has its own soul
Visiting Hours: Fri, Sat, Sun 10 AM - 7 PM, or weekdays by appointment