Curator and museum expert, Juliana Khalaf, takes us on a cultural journey beyond the country’s capital. She explores the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (MACAM) in Alita, a new platform for Lebanese artists
When one thinks of Byblos and its surroundings, ancient civilizations and archaeological ruins come to mind. Though, last June, nestled on a hilltop in Alita, about 7km from the coast, a factory space made from concrete and brick that once produced drawing boards and chalk for classrooms, was transformed into an art museum representing the careers of contemporary Lebanese artists from the 1950s until today. Set upon a luscious green estate, large bronze and steel geometrical garden sculptures lead up to the entrance of the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (MACAM), which has already become an important port of call on Lebanon’s cultural map.
Art historian Cesar Nammour and his collaborator Gabriela Schaub are the charming founders of MACAM and are on hand to guide guests through the story of the museum’s inception. Having worked as an industrialist, Nammour’s passion has always been to write about Lebanese artists and propagate their work to a broad audience, and this museum realizes that life-long dream.
“In the ‘80s artists that had no space to work would use this factory as a studio to create unique works of art. Since then the space organically grew and continues to grow into a creative space to promote the arts and artistic practices,” explains Nammour. “Now the official mission of this non-profit institution is to document Lebanese artists who began their careers from the ‘50s onwards. By collecting their artworks as well as publications recollecting their careers and lives we aim to preserve their memory.”
“The mission is to document Lebanese artists”
In the vast 2,000sqm space with a seven meter high ceiling, classical music playing in the background sets a relaxed atmosphere in which to explore the unique display of sculptures, divided into four categories by material: stone, metal, wood and ceramics. The art pieces span different eras. On show in one corner are marble sculptures by the famous Lebanese sculptor Michel Basbous from the ‘50s, whose own museum displaying his and his two brother’s work is located only a few km north in Rachana. Geometrical carved wood sculptures by the avant-garde artist Saloua Raouda Choucair popular in the ‘60s, handmade ceramic tiger-striped glazed bowls by Dorothy Salhab Kazemi from the ‘70s, and more recent figurative bronze creations by Raffi Tokatlian, shed light on MACAM’s rich and exceptional collection. Another exhibition space in the museum is dedicated to impressive contemporary installations by conceptual artists like Nada Sehnaoui and Mario Saba.
MACAM’s activities extend beyond what is exhibited within the halls; Nammour and Schaub organize competitions to encourage amateurs and professional artists alike to create artworks based on specific materials. “We feel it’s important for all kinds of people, regardless of age or professional background to experiment and participate in artistic activities,” says Nammour. To create a dynamic project, they organize lectures and workshops around these competitions. One recent theme focused on the age of bronze brought with it a bronze casting competition and lecturers were invited to elaborate on the subject. Nammour and Schaub are also working towards MACAM becoming an education hub and learning laboratory that offers public programs and they have dedicated a space to schools and children.
The MACAM tour ends in the cafeteria where fresh citronella tea from the surrounding gardens and coffee is served up. In the same space is the bookshop with a wide variety of books written on Lebanese art and artists such as “Resonances: 82 Lebanese Artists Reviewed by Helen Khal.” Their extensive catalogue can be found online on fineartspublishing.org. There is also a workspace for kids to explore their artistic talents on the very chalkboards that were once produced in this warehouse, perfectly connecting the past to the present.
03 271500 – macamlebanon.com
Open Fri-Sun, 12pm – sunset; Tue – Thur by appointment.
Entrance LL8,000 adults; LL5,000 under 18; LL15,000 with guide; free on first Sunday of each month