A little over a year ago, Amar A. Zahr was surveying the art scene in Beirut, when she realized something was missing. “When I would go to residencies abroad, artists would ask me if there was a regularly running residency program in Beirut that accepts young and emerging artists. There really wasn’t anything like that here.” Determined to rectify that, Amar opened the doors to the Beirut Art Residency (BAR) in September 2015.
BAR is located in an airy and light-filled space in the heart of Gemmayze. Art pieces and relics from past galleries decorate the walls and fill the corners of the hushed studio. Walking into the space, you might not suspect that it is also the temporary home to three international artists. Every few months, the studio selects emerging artists from the region and abroad who come to Beirut for inspiration, collaboration, and a place to call home. “Their work is reflective of the area, Gemmayze, the building, the apartment and the city of Beirut,” says Amar.
Like the artists it brings in, BAR is fresh on the Beirut art scene and is bringing its own ideas about art to the table. As Amar explains, the art featured at BAR is “never predictable. It’s much more experimental, and it’s pushing the envelope.” BAR embraces conceptual art forms that boldly challenge rigid notions of art as something that exists only on canvas. They welcome filmmakers, conceptual artists, and performative art pieces. As a result, Amar says they have earned the respect of young artists who see BAR as a place for experimentation. “The work here is not for sale, it’s not commercial, and that gives the artists room to make the art they want.”
BAR is quickly establishing itself as a hub of international exchange and collaboration. Many of the artists that come to BAR have only ever seen Beirut on the news, and are surprised by the bustling and modern metropolis that is teeming with art and culture. As the BAR residency grows in popularity, they are taking on new projects that seek to foster collaboration between international and local artists. Working with Joy Mardini Design Gallery, BAR is inviting three international product designers to collaborate with three local designers for the 2017 Beirut Design Week. BAR is also collaborating with the Goethe Institute on a Film Residency to bring together filmmakers in the region. Looking towards the future, Amar reflects, “We want to branch out and become a hub of knowledge for artists who want to embark on residencies. We want to continue to foster these collaborations.”