Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Armenian artist Galentz at Beirut Souks

Armenian artist Haroutin Galentz (Հարություն Կալենց
I am not much into art, unfortunately, despite a brother-in-law who was a painter and my avant-garde sister, Asma. But I tagged along with Asma and my friends Zepure and Yorki on Sunday (November 18) to a retrospective of the works of Armenian painter Haroutin Galentz at Beirut Souks.

Zepure grew up with the family in Tripoli, Lebanon, and was eager to see the exhibit and was also rewarded by a meeting with the painter’s son, Armen, who is in charge of the exhibit while it is in Beirut.

The retrospective is part of a travelling exhibition starting in Beirut before setting off to France and the U.S. next year.

It is being held at The Venue in Beirut Souks under the patronage of the Ministries of Culture of Armenia and Lebanon. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of Armenia and organized by the Galentz Museum and Solidere in association with the Armenian Embassy in Beirut.

The retrospective, titled Two Lives, is the first by the Armenian painter. It offers a rare view of Galentz’ earliest drawings and covers the Lebanon 1930s and 1940s chapter, the Armenian period of the late 1960s and the connection between them.

Seashore Beirut - 1925 (oil on cardboard)
Armenia’s Minister of Culture Hasmik Poghosyan writes in a foreword of the exhibit’s catalogue: “…Haroutiun Galentz was one of those great and authentic artists against whom neither Turkish persecutors nor the Soviet authoritarian and tyrannical regime could fight. Moreover, those awful human and creative conditions gave birth to the incomparable art of Galentz, which had its great influence on the esthetical taste of the forthcoming generations…”

Wedding -- 1938 (gouache on paper, Galentz Museum)
Much of the details on the artist are from a chat with Armen Galentz and Alice Nersisyan of the Institute of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia and from the catalogue on sale at the exhibit.

The works on display include:
  • the early works of the artist dated 1926-1946 – the Lebanon period. There are bas-reliefs, sketches, caricatures, water colors, prints and oil paintings;
  • the bas-reliefs hall features those presented at the Lebanon pavilion at the World Expo in New York in 1933, among them the impressive and timeless seven-meter “Crafts of Lebanon.” Galentz was then awarded the Honorary Diploma of the High Commissioner of the Republic of Lebanon and the board of directors of the New York World Expo;
  • the 1942-1945 caricatures and posters showed for the first time. They were created for the French newspaper “En Route,” published during World War II; and
  • oil paintings from the Galentz Museum collection and some canvas from private collections in Beirut and Moscow.
Armen with 1959 oil on canvas of botanist Nora Gabrielian 
Galentz was born on Easter night -- March 27, 1910 -- in the small town of Gurun, in Sebastia vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, present day Turkey.

His father, Tiratur, owned a wool-dying factory, which left a profound impression on young Galentz with its vats of bright colors. The family was rather well off and the first five years of his life were those of a happy childhood.

In 1915, during the Armenian Genocide, Galentz’ father was arrested by Turkish soldiers. He was never seen again. Galentz, his three brothers and mother joined the March and escaped to Aleppo. A few days after their arduous trek into the Syrian city, Galentz’ mother died of starvation and fatigue. Galentz would later describe it as “the death march through the desert, with sore and bloody feet, in tattered clothes, famished, miserable and barely alive…”
Garbage collectors -- 1926 (pencil on paper, Galentz Museum)
Galentz and his three brothers were sent to an orphanage for Armenian children. After the first three years, he left the orphanage and settled with his paternal uncle and became an apprentice at a calligrapher’s shop. He cultivated his passion for art and was encouraged by one of the orphanage sisters. He often escaped the orphanage to roam around the Aleppo markets and paint.
Galentz says Onnig Avedissian, an Armenian artist who for a couple of months taught the 13-year-old boy the basics of painting, was his only teacher.
In 1927, the artist moved to Tripoli, Lebanon, where his two older brothers then lived. There he met French artist Claude Michulet, his teacher at the Beirut Academy of Fine Arts, where he taught painting until 1939. They were devoted friends until Michulet’s death in 1942.
Kurdish women -- oil on canvas, Galentz Museum
In 1930, Galentz settled in Beirut. He contributed to Beirut’s artistic life, held solo exhibitions and received commissions from companies and individuals, which culminated in the bas-reliefs for the 1933 World Expo.
In 1938, he took into apprenticeship Armine Paronyan. They married in 1943. Armine became a prominent Armenian painter alongside her husband. They had a son, Armen, who I met at the exhibit.
But in 1946, despite his growing success in Beirut, Galentz decided to return to Armenia as soon as Diaspora Armenians were able to repatriate.
The first 10 years in his motherland were difficult and challenging. After being feted and recognized in Lebanon, the family received a plot of land on a rocky hill outside the city and Galentz had to build his own house. He found himself among hostile locals for whom the repatriates were strangers. He also had no clue about the Soviet reality. He was lonesome and poor.
Self-portrait with pipe -- 1942, Galentz Museum)
For many years, he had to make a modest living from occasional commissions and working for himself in his studio. He had no solo exhibition. Between 1946 and 1949 his works were exhibited only twice. The Union of Artists deemed his paintings formalistic and cosmopolitan and they called him a Western artist – labels which were akin to a death sentence under Stalin. He was expelled from the Union of Artists but readmitted in 1951.
His life changed in 1956 when famous physicist Artem Alikhanian, a prominent and influential founder of Armenia’s schools of physics, became a devoted friend, patron, admirer and relentless promoter of his art.
His only solo exhibition during his lifetime took place in 1962 at the Union of Artists in Armenia. Solitude and oblivion gave way to vivid interest in the unique artist. His paintings, studio and home became the center of gravity for creative people. Among his closest friends were Eleonora Gabrielian, a biologist; Levon Mkrtchian, a philologist; and Hayk Vardanian, a scriptwriter. Scientists, authors, actors, art critics from all over the Soviet Union and other parts of the world visited him.
In May 1967, at his artistic peak, Galentz died of a heart attack on a bright sunny day. He was posthumously awarded Armenia’s State Prize in 1967.

Galentz’ house in Yerevan is now a museum. His paintings are also in the collections of National Museum of Armenia (Yerevan), Republic of Armenia’s Cultural Ministry as well as private collections in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, New York, Paris, Vienna, Beirut, Aleppo, Cambridge, San Francisco, Los Angeles to list a few.
In 2010, Galentz’ renovated museum opened its doors in Yerevan to celebrate his centennial and I heard much about it from my cousin Lillian who had recently visited Armenia.
If you are in Beirut, I strongly recommend you spare an hour to go down to Beirut Souks and visit the exhibition. It is touching, compelling but soothing, vibrant and extremely impressive. You won’t regret it.
You can view more of the artists pictures at the exhibition here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On the "immortal olive tree" and tears...

On the “immortal olive tree” and tears…

Photos via Wikipedia and
Some childhood memories never fade.
I still remember sitting on a small stool in our kitchen in Baghdad, naughtily dipping my finger, again and again, in a large aluminum can of olive oil and licking till practically falling sick.
It was that time of year, usually in November, when Teta Rose, my grandmother in Bethlehem, sent us our annual supply of olive oil and olives following the Olive Harvest.
The new crop of still bitter green olives, cracked with a small piece of rock that we always kept for that purpose, were and remain my favorite.
You would be hard-pressed to find an Arab kitchen without its jars of olives or a plate of olives at the table.
I think of all the delicious foods around the world, the best must be a slice of bread and olives.
But the Olive Harvest comes at a heavy price, especially in Palestine and this year in Syria too.
As the late poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote of the “immortal olive tree”: “If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.”
Tears indeed as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territory (OCHAoPt) last month released its Olive Harvest Factsheet.
It says that in the occupied West Bank, over 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers between January and mid-October 2012, albeit 2,000 fewer than during the equivalent period in 2011.

The Olive Harvest Factsheet for Palestine also states that:
  • Nearly half (48%) of the agricultural land in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is planted with eight million olive trees; the vast majority is in the West Bank.
  • The olive oil industry makes up 14% of the agricultural income for the oPt and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families.
  • The number of Barrier gates increased to 73 in 2012 but most (52) are closed year round, except for the olive harvest period and only then for limited hours.
  • In 2011, 42% of applications for permits to access olive groves behind the Barrier submitted prior to the harvest season were rejected, compared to 39% in 2010.
  • Only one of the 162 complaints regarding settler attacks against Palestinian trees monitored by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din since 2005 has so far led to the indictment of a suspect.
  • In the Gaza Strip, 7,300 dunums [7.3 million square feet or 1,825 acres] of land along the perimeter fence with Israel that were previously planted with olive trees have been leveled during Israeli military operations.
Having had the privilege to stand on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Holy City of Jerusalem, I cannot but cry each time I hear of the uprooting or destruction of an olive tree in occupied Palestine, where there is always a peak of violence related to the harvest this time of year.
The olive tree, a symbol of abundance, glory, peace, wisdom, fertility, power and purity is now fought as a human right. It is a struggle under occupation to keep the groves from destruction, burning and uprooting, which impact on the people, the land, the animals, and the water…
The restrictions on the joyful harvest season have been in place since the 1967 occupation and have severely affected the Palestinians dependent upon the olives for their livelihood. This has severely compromised the culture and traditions of olive farming and harvesting.
But the olive tree is a part of every Palestinian and will remain so. The olive tree is “immortal”…

Monday, November 5, 2012

Prayer beads go digital

Whoever says Subhan Allah wa bi Hamdihi (Glory be to Allah and Praise Him) 100 times during the day, his sins are wiped away, even if they are like the foam of the sea[Sahih Bukhari; #7:168]

Working in an eclectic boutique for the past year, I usually get a view of the trends and fashions to come at least six months in advance. And if I miss something, the ladies who visit the boutique are either wearing it or know about it.
One accessory I seem to have missed, however, is the tasbeeh ring. I noticed it on most of the Gulf ladies coming into the shop over the Eid al-Adha holidays. They were pink, blue and green. Some were plain, others encrusted with diamonds…
The prayer rings come in all colors
didn't know what it was. After seeing a few, I had to ask a sheikha… And what a great idea! The prayer ring has replaced the prayer beads, and it is not something new. While reading about the rings and prayer beads in general, I found that Rosary rings were given to some Catholic nuns at the time of their solemn profession.
Prayer beads are widely used in various religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Anglicanism, Islam, Sikhism and the Baha’i Faith -- to count the repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions, such as the Rosary of Virgin Mary in Christianity and dhikr (remembrance of God) in Islam.
Writing about prayer beads reminded me of a family visit to the Vatican under Blessed John XXIII in the early sixties. We were fortunate to attend an audience with the Pope and I had a treasured Rosary, bought at the Vatican souvenir shop, blessed by the Holy Father.
The number of beads varies by religion or use.
The traditional Masbaha
Prayer beads, Masbaha or Tasbeeh in Islam, usually have either 99 or 33 beads. Buddhists and Hindus use the Japa Mala, most commonly with 108 beads -- or 27, which are counted four times. Baha'i prayer beads consist of either 95 or 19 strung with the addition of five beads below. Roman Catholics use the Rosary with 54 beads and an additional five, whereas Eastern Orthodox Christians use a knotted Rosary with 100 knots, although prayer ropes with 50 or 33 knots can also be used.
Prayer beads are fingered in an automatic manner and allow the user to keep track of how many prayers have been said with a minimal amount of conscious effort, which in turn allows greater attention to be devoted to the prayers themselves. And that’s where the ring comes in. You click after each prayer and can keep track.
There are three widely accepted uses for prayer beads: Repetition of the same devotion; repetition of several different prayers in some pattern, interspersed with or accompanied by meditations; and meditation on a series of spiritual themes, as in Catholicism or Islam.
In Islam, the Masbaha or Tasbeeh have 99 beads, corresponding to the 99 Names of Allah. Sometimes only 33 beads are used, in which case one would cycle through them three times to equal 99.
The beads are traditionally used to keep count while saying the prayer known as Tasbeeh of Fatima, which was a form of prayer offered as a gift by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his daughter Fatima.
Tasbeeh Fatima is recited as follows: 33 times Subhan Allah (Glory be to God), 33 times Al Hamdulillah (Praise be to God), and 33 times Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest). It is highly recommended to recite this prayer after the daily five ritual prayers.
The tradition of Tasbeeh Fatima, narrated by Abu Huraira, goes like this: Some poor people came to the Prophet and said, "The wealthy people will get higher grades and will have permanent enjoyment and they pray like us and fast as we do. They have more money by which they perform the Hajj, and Umra; fight and struggle in Allah's Cause and give in charity." The Prophet said, "Shall I not tell you a thing upon which if you acted you would catch up with those who have surpassed you? Nobody would overtake you and you would be better than the people amongst whom you live except those who would do the same. Say Subhan Allah, Al Hamdulillah and Allahu Akbar 33 times each after every (compulsory) prayer.”
Abu Huraira continues: We differed and some of us said that we should say, Subhan Allah 33 times and Al Hamdulillah 33 times and Allahu Akbar 34 times. I went to the Prophet who said, "Say, Subhan Allah, Al Hamdulillah and Allahu Akbar all together for 33 times." [Book #12, Hadith #804]
A Rosary
"Rosary" is used to describe both a sequence of prayers and a string of prayer beads used to count the prayers. The sequence of prayers in the Rosary is the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary 10 times, and the Glory Be to the Father, sometimes followed by the Fatima Prayer ("O My Jesus, Forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy"). Each sequence is known as a decade. The praying of each decade is accompanied by meditation on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall the life of Jesus Christ.
A Rosary ring (via Wikipedia)
The Christian Rosary ring, although not digital, has 10 indentations and a cross representing one decade of a Rosary. Smaller ring rosaries became known as soldiers' rosaries, because they often took them into battle, most notably during World War I.
Many people still prefer fingering the prayer beads. My friend Nada told me she has a prayer ring but still uses her Masbaha. She explained that after each recitation, a baby palm is planted in Heaven.
Whether through manually counting or clicking, the image of palm groves in Heaven seemed magical.