Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 19th August 2018

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Khalil Gibran’s writings bring inspiration to London exhibition

The exhibition presented the works of 38 artists inspired by the writings – especially “The Prophet” – of the Lebanese poet.


Uncertain future. Lulwa Al Khalifa's "Blind Faith." (Karen Dabrowska)

Uncertain future. Lulwa Al Khalifa’s “Blind Faith.” (Karen Dabrowska)

LONDON - More than 500 visitors packed Sotheby’s north galleries on the opening of “A Guide for Our Times,” an exhibition of the works of 38 artists inspired by the writings – especially “The Prophet” – of Lebanese poet Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931).

“The Prophet” is divided into chapters dealing with topics of life, including love, marriage, children, joy and sorrow, crime and punishment, freedom, passion, friendship, good and evil, religion and death. Each painting was accompanied by a brief biography of the artist, an artist’s statement and the quote from Gibran, mostly from “The Prophet,” that inspired the work.

Colourful abstract figures and scenes from nature dominated the exhibition. A self-taught artist and a member of the Bahraini royal family Lulwa al-Khalifa exhibited “Blind Faith,” an oil-on-canvas painting of a woman looking sceptically into an uncertain future behind 26 braided lines – a reference to the 26 lessons of “The Prophet.”

Laudi Abilama, an artist and printmaker based between Lebanon and England, exhibited an acrylic-on-paper portrait of Gibran. In her artist’s statement, she referred to accounts of Gibran’s life that divulge a series of metaphors of lust, desire, ambition and great suffering in understanding his identity.

Egyptian artist Ahmed Saber focused on Gibran’s saying that all work is empty save when there is love. His drawing “Livelihood” with pencil and ink on paper shows a figure carrying a fish, a symbol of goodness and provisions, while in the background the shrine shows that faith is rewarded.

Egyptian artist and researcher Zeinab Nour said she has always been fascinated by trees, symbols of life in ancient Egypt. “Both from my Egyptian visual heritage and from Gibran’s book I received an aesthetic vision about an Orphalese tree as a key of life (ankh) symbolising a person who gives without discriminating between people even if they take from him or her,” Nour said in her artist’s statement. Orphalese is an island that is the setting for “The Prophet.”

The exhibition “Khalil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” builds on nine years of East-West arts initiatives implemented by CARAVAN, an international peace-building arts NGO that originated in Cairo in 2009 with the objective of building bridges through arts between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and the West. Acclaimed and emerging Middle Eastern contemporary artists were invited to contribute an original work inspired by Gibran’s message of universality, peace harmony and love. All the works were on sale with the proceeds going towards peace-building in the Middle East through art.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Rami Mortada described Gibran as a universalist in his outreach. “To sum up Gibran in one single word I would say he is inspirational – inspirational in his writings, art and even in his romance!”

President of CARAVAN Paul-Gordon Chandler began his speech with a quote from Gibran: “We have forgotten – or have we? – that there is but one universal language and that its voice is art.”

He referred to the current challenging times, characterised by “misunderstanding and stereotypes of the ‘other,’ the rise of populism, nationalism and ethnocentric thinking, the increase in hate crimes and bigotry, anti-immigration sentiments, the development of political authoritarianism, the lack of equality for women, the phobias of those from other faith and traditions and the growing discord between the Middle East and West.”

“At times like this we look for guides to provide a way forward and hope and I don’t think there could be a better guide than Khalil Gibran whose voice is timeless. He was born into what was then an exclusive, sectarian and intolerant historic [Maronite] religious community but became someone who embraced all in our world and as a result became embraced by all,” Chandler said.

“The Prophet” has been translated into 40 languages.

“I love the way Gibran expressed his collective embrace of humanity with the poetic imagery of cloud,” Chandler said quoting a passage from the work “Sand and Foam”: “Should you sit upon a cloud you would not see the boundary between one country and another, nor the boundary stone between a farm and a farm. It is a pity you cannot sit upon a cloud.”

“Khalil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” was curated by Janet Rady, a specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East, with more than 25 years’ experience with the international art market, and Marion Fromlet Baecker, the founder of Culture Bridge Egypt, which promotes the country through its art.