By: Samia Halaby
past month, Lebanese artist Youssef Ghazzawi's studio was destroyed by
Israeli military bombardment for the third time in his life. The first
time was in 1977 when his home in the southern Lebanese village of Khiyam was severely bombed. And the second time was in 1983 during the
Israeli occupation of Beirut, the apartment building he was living and
working in collapsed due to continuous shelling. Under each barrage, his
entire studio and most of its content were destroyed. He had salvaged a
few things from the previous two demolitions and was saving them. In the
most recent destruction of Youssef's studio his entire life's output was
lost. Able to escape the incessant bombing of his neighborhood by
Israeli war planes, he and his family returned to his home and studio,
both located in Dahiyeh (the southern suburb of Beirut), only to find
disaster. Scattered, buried, or torn to shreds in the bombing, were
hundreds of paintings, mosaic panels, work on glass and wood, work on
paper, sketchbooks, notebooks, precious mementoes, and a vast library of
art books in numerous languages.
Youssef, a professor at the Lebanese University, is an artist of breadth
and vast experience. He spent many years in Paris studying and later
practicing his art. Much of his work bears the stamp of his
international experience. His wife, Suzanne Chakaroune, also an artist
and art instructor, shared his studio and also lost all of her work.
During a phone interview on August 16, 2006, Youssef discussed what has
transpired over the past month, 'I was planning a retrospective exhibition of my work from the past 25 years, and all this work is now gone.'
When asked if he was able to salvage anything this time, Youssef said,
'Only some books, the paintings which I pulled out are torn to ribbons, I suppose there might be a chance to restore a couple of them.'
Later in the interview he affirmed, 'We are all fed up with war and the
attacks by Israel'We know that at any moment they can hit us. I see this war as one against our art and culture, against our progress and development, a war against humanity. We want to create beauty and they find an excuse to demolish us.'
The Lebanese government recently declared that 7 billion dollars' worth
of damage has resulted from recent Israeli bombing. My guess is that if
this number is doubled, it would not yet make up for private loss, let
alone cultural loss.
painter, I am horrified to learn of Youssef's losses. I immediately
understand what he conveys, his reaction is my reaction. Under the
Israeli occupation of Palestine, Palestinian artists are subjected to
terrifying crimes against their artistic production. Our art is often
destroyed and confiscated, our palette governed by Israeli laws that
prohibit the use of certain colors. In Palestine, artists work knowing
that their work could be confiscated or cause their imprisonment and
many have been put in prison for merely being artists. Our galleries are
shutdown by the Israeli military without warning; art centers and
studios are ransacked or destroyed. In 1982, the Museum of Solidarity
with Palestine in Beirut was destroyed by Israeli bombardment. Many of
us feel this was a deliberate attack. My work and that of other Arab
artists, was destroyed alongside that of internationally known artists
such as Joan Miro, Eduardo Chillida, and Antoni Tapies.
Yet we are steadfast. The voice of our great culture and its ancient
roots entirely negate the justification that Israelis came to Palestine
and found a land without people. This is also why our sibling population
in Lebanon is subjected to similar destruction.
Youssef Ghazzawi and Suzanne Chakaroune both lost the creative output of
a lifetime as have many other Lebanese and they know as clearly, as
Palestinian artists do, the who and the why of this act of horror again
art and culture. Palestine and Lebanon are originally one population and
regardless of the long attempts to divide them, beginning with the
Sykes-Picot agreement and now with the deliberate bombing of civilian
life by the combined forces of the US, Israel, and with the double
standards of the UN. (For those who may not know, The Sykes-Picot
agreement of 1916 between England, France, and Russia, set out how the
Arab world would be divided by the colonizers. After 1917, Lenin made
the high-level secret agreement public.)
As a Palestinian artist I express my admiration, empathy, and respect to
Youssef Ghazzawi and Suzanne Chakaroune and to their Lebanese sumoud.
May you both create the most brilliant masterpieces of your life as time
and life allows you in the coming days.
Assistance provided by Farhat Center for Research and Studies of Arab
Modern & Contemporary Arts
To contact the artist: Youssef Ghazzawi,
Cell # in Lebanon 961-3-414-830;