Whitehot Magazine

Lebanese Artists Use Collaboration as Means of Survival

Exhibition view of ‘Un(Masked)’ by Lebanese carpet gallery Iwan Maktabi in Alserkal Avenue. Photography by Aasiya Jagadeesh

, April 2021

In the midst of Lebanon's worsening humanitarian and political crisis, Un(Masked), an exhibition staged in Dubai by third generation Lebanese carpet gallery Iwan Maktabi, brought together a diverse group of Lebanese designers, artists and architects. Curated by Mohamed Maktabi, who manages the gallery alongside his sisters Mona and Chirine, the exhibition was held in a warehouse in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, the city’s lauded cultural district, the exhibition was dedicated to the idea of “de-confining” both psychologically and physically after months of global lockdowns, particularly for the Lebanese, who continue to watch as their country spirals into total collapse eight months after the Beirut explosions.

 Exhibition view of ‘Un(Masked)’ by Lebanese carpet gallery Iwan Maktabi in Alserkal Avenue. Photography by Aasiya Jagadeesh

 Exhibition view of ‘Un(Masked)’ by Lebanese carpet gallery Iwan Maktabi in Alserkal Avenue. Photography by Aasiya Jagadeesh 

“It is easy to succumb to the defeatist atmosphere currently around us,” said Mohamed Maktabi, Iwan Maktabi’s co-founder. “Our survival instincts have kicked in and we must realize that life goes. This exhibition is a form of hope, like springtime after a cold winter, and rebuilding after a deadly explosion.”

As the situation in Lebanon worsens and the country plummets into further literal and figurative darkness, many Lebanese creatives, just like the rest of the population, are leaving the country to build a life elsewhere and show their work in safety. This exhibition was a product of such mass departure. It shed light on the country’s creative talents and served as a powerful reminder of Lebanon’s resilient creative scene.

 Mona, Mohamed and Chirine Maktabi in the Beirut showroom. Photography by Tony Eliah 

“Because of the unprecedented times that the world is passing through, especially Lebanon, we need show and prove to the world and to ourselves that we are still ‘alive,’” said Chirine Maktabi.

A central component of Un(Masked) was the aspect of collaboration. Featured throughout the industrial space punctuated by elegant vignettes of carpets, artwork, design objects and furniture was the Iwan Maktabi X collection, which hung on the wall and covered the floor. The ongoing project of limited-edition carpets is made in collaboration with a range of architects, designers and artists, include works by David/Nicolas, Georges Mohasseb and Kareen Asli, Roula Salamoun, Nadine Kanso and Gregory Gatserelia. Their carpet designs were complemented by the artworks of several of Lebanon’s most esteemed names—Hala Shoukair, Fadia Haddad, Samir Sayegh, Tagreed Darghouth and Bassam Kawagi—as well as the Egyptian alabaster design objects of Egyptian-Lebanese artist Omar Shakil and the lively ceramics made with raku firing of Hala Matta.

  A detail of Roula Salamoun’s ‘Strata’ carpet with her ‘Anatomy’ chair. Courtesy of Iwan Maktabi

Over the last several years interdisciplinary collaboration between the fields of art and design has grown more prominent. Increasingly, creatives from a range of areas are joining hands to bring to life functional works of art. At Un(Masked) the notion of collaboration was twofold: it served to uphold its powerful aesthetic outcome and also its importance as a way to maintain a creative community and survive during a volatile moment of ongoing crisis.

 Roula Salamoun. Photography by Tarek Moukaddem


‘Stata’ by Roula Salamoun next to her ‘Anatomy’ console. Photography by Rebecca Anne Proctor 

“If there is one thing that the world has experienced in 2020 that has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot live without others,” said design duo David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem of David/Nicolas from Beirut. “Social distancing and lockdowns pushed everyone towards isolation and this lack of exchanges, whether they are cultural, friendly, romantic or professional, have created a void in everybody’s lives.”

Inspired by the geometric forms in antique Zieglar and Agra carpets, the duo created the Orientations carpet collection for Iwan Maktabi, featuring hand-carded wool with the three-dimensional figures found in Oriental carpets and also reminiscent of stars in the night sky.


 ‘Orientations’ by David/Nicolas. Courtesy of Iwan Maktabi 

With its uneven curvaceous shape resembling that she same anamorphous forms that she employs in her furniture, Beirut-based designer Roula Saloumoun’s carpet for Iwan Maktabi, titled Strata, references a topography that draws on both architecture and nature. The piece, which is colored with soft pastel hued thick striations, was inspired by the hills and cities of Nepal after a trip to Kathmandu with the Maktabi family 

“The Beirut blast made a particularly difficult year and a half even more difficult,” said Salamoun. “This exhibition is a great opportunity to reconnect with the world and share the great talent that we have in Lebanon.”  

In another more mystically inspired carpet architect and interior decorator Gregory Gatserelia recalled the 1968 film A Space Odyssey through softly colored abstract shapes to emulate the mysterious forms in the universe. “It’s incredible how from one design and philosophy you can create thousands of different tones and colors that will suit a variety of interiors,” said Gatserelia.

  A detail of A Space Odyssey by Gregorary Gatserelia. Photography by Aasiya Jagadeesh

In many ways, Un(Masked) illustrates the idea of cooperation through collaboration, of human beings, in this case artists, coming together for a greater good: the creation of a work of art as well as the preservation of the spirit and identity of the Lebanese creative community.

“This exhibition is also a way for us to show that we are not giving up on beauty and creation,” added Raffoul and Moussallem. “We believe this exhibition helps keep the Lebanese creative scene present in the Arab world. While our political ruling class tries to cut any sort of ties with the rest of the planet, it shows how the individuals and creatives of Lebanon also fight for a borderless expression.”

  David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem

 'Soft Round' by David/Nicolas. Courtesy of Iwan Maktabi


Gregorary Gatserelia

'Odyssey Scene 4'by Gregory Gatserelia. Courtesy of Iwan Maktabi



Rebecca Anne Proctor

Rebecca Anne Proctor is a journalist based in Dubai. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar Art and Harper’s Bazaar Interiors, a role she held since January 2015. Her writing has been published in The New York Times Style MagazineBloomberg BusinessweekArchitectural DigestVogue ArabiaArtnet NewsFriezeBBCThe ForwardArab NewsGalerieOculaThe National, ArtNews and The Business of Fashion. She is an international consultant for Rizzoli Books and also regularly writes texts for books and catalogues on Middle Eastern and African art and culture.

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