Capturing Beirut's many sides on canvas

Hatty Pedder's latest exhibition shows the Lebanese capital in a state of flux

Capturing Beirut's many sides on canvas
Capturing Beirut's many sides on canvas Image #2
Capturing Beirut's many sides on canvas Image #3

British artist Hatty Pedder discusses her latest show and explains the rationale behind her eye-catching works that capture the heart of the Lebanese city.

Hatty Pedder’s range of mixed-media impressions of a colourful Beirut are certainly multi-faceted representations of the vibrant nature of a city. But what of their deeper meaning? When I ask the Dubai resident what she’s trying to capture in her artworks, she alludes to the ‘lifestyles and contrasts’ of the heady Lebanese capital.

Pedder, who has visited Beirut on several occasions, has used these trips as the inspiration for her show, ‘KHOSH BOSH! Beirut, An Identity Adrift’, at the Mojo Gallery. Expanding on the artworks, Pedder says she found her inspiration from the energy of the people that live in the city, adding her use of colourful materials is to, ‘show this vibrancy against the scene: the hospitality, living in the moment’.

I challenge Pedder, who recreates images from photographs that she captures on her travels, on one such representation of a surgically enhanced-looking female character in her work, called Talifon. Pedder’s response is diplomatic, denying any form of parody behind the caricature. She insists the woman in the portrait is a literal representation of what she saw, stating that the apparently beauty-obsessed individual is merely ‘just a record’.

But Pedder then elaborates with regards to Talifon, saying: ‘The concept behind the series of manholes in the picture is that everyone always walks on top of them, but I wanted to put the people inside them.’ The use of silver leaf as a contrast against the grittiness of the manhole, again emphasises the contrasts between the glamour and the grit in Beirut.

The fashion label Louis Vuitton is a regular theme in her work and represents Beirut’s consumer society. It’s an instantly recognisable design that carries wider connotations; it has been associated with aspiration and new wealth – the choice of footballers and soap stars. Yet, to Pedder, it’s merely a way of illustrating a point and she again refuses to be drawn into any metaphorical undertones.

One of the most eye-catching works is the montage of a woman on a red carpet, in front of Beirut’s famous ‘egg’ building – an iconic theatre that was built in 1966. The glamorous woman is posing for the paparazzi, illustrating the cult of celebrity within the capital. In the background is a billboard of the Lebanese pop star Super Nancy – a chocolate-box celebrity adored by kids, along with another image of the revered 1960s singer, Fairuz.

The ‘egg’, which survived Lebanon’s long 1975 civil war, is marked by bullet holes, in contrast to the impeccable scene in the foreground.

Pedder goes on to explain her work entitled Martyr, a representation of Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square. The centre of the image focuses on a statue. It is one of the city’s most important symbols of the destruction from the civil conflict and, along with parts of the Old Opera House, is the only remains of the former square – a monument to Lebanese nationalists who were hanged by the Ottomans during World War I.

With her use of acrylic yellow and the neon-hued palm trees, Pedder conveys the flamboyance of the city, along with the familiar themes of contrast – in this case, represented by a Muslim woman juxtaposed against a surgically enhanced lady taking her dogs for a walk.

‘Khosh Bosh’ is Lebanese slang for reaching an uninhibited phase in a relationship, where protocol isn’t necessary. Asking Pedder to explain exactly when it was that she had reached this point with Beirut, she simply says: ‘It took a few trips to absorb it. There are so many layers.’

Inevitably, the conversation leads to the worrying effect the Syrian war is having on the city. Pedder again becomes guarded. ‘I’m not going into that with this project,’ however she does go on to concede that it, ‘comes into the fabric of things naturally’.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the emotions and ideologies that lie behind Pedder’s works. Whatever way, her impressions of Beirut harness an undeniable talent for catching the vibrancy of the city.

The lowdown

Exhibition: KHOSH BOSH! Beirut, An Identity Adrift at The Mojo Gallery until October 31. Unit 33, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 323 6367).
Artist: Hatty Pedder
Price of works: On request

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