Sharjah Hosts First Retrospective Exhibition of Late Lebanese Artist Aref El Rayess

An introduction for Aref El Rayess and his backstory at his exhibition at Sharjah Art Foundation in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates on 26 Feb, 2022. (AUD/Heba Alhamarna)

Sharjah Art Museum, in cooperation with the Sharjah Art Foundation, is hosting a retrospective exhibition of the late Lebanese artist Aref El Rayess from February 26 to August 7. Born in Aley, Lebanon, El Rayess (1928-2005) began his painting journey at the age of eleven. With the help of the writer Arlette Levy, the artist Georges Cyr, the art critic Victor Hakim, and the Head of the French Institute of Archaeology Henry Seyrig, his first exhibition was presented in Beirut in 1948. El Rayess participated in exhibitions worldwide as his travels inspired much of his work. Traveling between Senegal and Paris from 1948 to 1957, he studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts as well as attended the workshops of Fernand Leger, Andre Lhôte, and La Grande Chaumière among others.

In 1957, El Rayess returned to Lebanon and co-founded an Aubusson tapestry studio and atelier with Canadian Roger Caron. He was awarded a scholarship to study in Italy in 1959 after an exhibition at the Italian Cultural Center. In 1963, the Lebanese government commissioned him to create two sculptures to represent Lebanon in the New York World Fair, as he spent four busy years moving between Florence and Rome. El Rayess’ visit to the United States lasted for two years, where he met different Expressionist painters and intellectuals.

He returned to Lebanon in 1967, a year highlighted by events in the Arab World. He founded the Fine Arts Department at the Lebanese University, where he was a lecturer, as well as Dar el Fan (The House of Art and Culture), which he co-founded with his close friend Janine Rubeiz. After that, El Rayess began organizing, attending, and participating in conferences and exhibitions on politics and the arts in the Arab world. Some of his notable artworks were during his visit to Algeria in 1975, where he created a series of drawings representing the Lebanese civil war, which were later published as the book The Road to Peace. Through his work, El Rayess became a political leader and revolutionist. His work was also displayed in Palestine, Syria, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. El Rayess resided in Jeddah, KSA, until 1987. Five years later, he returned to Aley, Lebanon, where he lived until he passed away in 2005 at the age of 77.

Learn more about the exhibition through this video:

Heba Alhamarna

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