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For Lebanese Artist Dima Raad, Faces Tell the Stories of Crisis and War

A face is the storehouse of all human emotions, says the Lebanese artist and educator Dima Raad.

Raad, who heads the fine arts department at the Lebanese University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Architecture, has just displayed more than 20 large-scale paintings in an exhibition called “Faces in a Row”, which ran from March 17  until April 9, in Beirut.

In a recent interview with Al-Fanar Media, Raad talked about how the expressive power of the human face came to occupy a central place in her own art. The conversation also ranged over topics including her ideas about the makings of a true artist, and what she has learned from her years teaching art at the Lebanese University.

‘An Artist Is Unique’

Studying art at a university is not enough in itself to produce artists, Raad said. She believes students need to develop their skills through self-education, so that they can develop their own artistic visions.

Studying at an art college “does not guarantee a real artist will graduate. … Painters are many, but an artist is unique.‘‘

Dima Raad  

Not every painter is “necessarily an artist,” and studying at an art college “does not guarantee a real artist will graduate,” she said. “Painters are many, but an artist is unique.”

The fine arts department at the Lebanese University offers students a variety of theoretical and practical subjects, she said. What makes the difference for students, however, is whether they have the enthusiasm to self-educate and follow up on what is taught in art schools. Only then can they find their own angle and have the ability to renew themselves.

As for teaching contemporary art, Raad explained that university studies focus more on the traditional techniques, but professors also encourage students to explore. “Our university supports students’ pursuit of their passion for art through research and exposure to new and global experiences,” she said.

“This is what our professors supported while teaching us,” she said. “I support research and knowledge too. In my academic career, I encourage the students’ tendency to explore and raise their spirit of experimentation.”

She also thinks the Internet today provides a great opportunity to access the world’s latest art trends. “Previous generations did not have such an opportunity,” she said. “Online learning has also become very supportive for the new generation of art students.”

‘Faces in a Row’

Raad said that the faces depicted in her latest exhibition are flashes and remnants of features that stayed in her mind from past events, rather than imaginary ones. She described them as “a series of faces that fermented in my head and came out spontaneously.”

Gallery: Dima Raad’s ‘Faces’

She chose to draw them large-scale to “highlight the face’s full size and changing conditions.”

All feelings are expressed in the face, she said. “Faces are an endless source of inspiration in art. They are the first letters of expression and the main centre for the release of the tools of the body and mind.”

In earlier works, she also drew faces imprinted in her memory.

“In the wake of the July war and the bombing of Lebanon in 2006, I held an exhibition in France inspired by the war,” she said. “Those paintings’ faces were inspired by the battlefields and destruction at the time. It seemed as if my drawings had become a gallery to remember the faces of war.”

Years have passed since then, but the Lebanese people are still facing great challenges, including repercussions of the Beirut Port blast, the Covid-19 pandemic, and economic crisis. “This is what I sought to capture emotionally in my last exhibition through faces bearing signs of pain, love, questions, and an uncertain future,” she said.

“This is what I sought to capture emotionally in my last exhibition through faces bearing signs of pain, love, questions, and an uncertain future.‘‘

Dima Raad  

In one prominent face in her latest exhibition, Raad employed colours as an expressive means rather than the traditional portrait techniques taught to first-year art students.

She tried to capture facial expressions “in a way that revolves around the play of colours, composition, balance, and subject matter”—using more daring colours, for example, to convey a scream.

In her exhibition there are no sharp differences between men’s and women’s faces. They all reflect “the suffering of the human being in general, regardless of gender,” she said.

Artistic Career

Raad’s first solo exhibition was in 1993. “I was at the beginning of my artistic career, just graduated from university,” she said. “My works were still affected by strict academic standards. With time, I began adding to my profile and academic mind broader features of free expression in subjects and techniques.”

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Throughout her career, there has always been a connection between her art and the Lebanese reality, she said. She added that she always seeks to “create spaces of freedom from style, and a trend for more artistic experimentation.”

“This appears in my colour choices, for example,” she said. “But experimentation, including that in colour techniques, needs experience in dealing with colours and their interactions.”

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