A song and a bird in a museum

“I think that human beings lock birds in cages because they themselves are incapable of flying” – Unknown

Mirella Salame is a young Lebanese artist whom I met last Sunday at MACAM, Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. She is a participant in the Age of Wood sculpting competition. Her performative installation is titled freedom and freedom. “The title revolves around two freedoms: The freedom of a human being who is free to put a bird in a cage and sell it, whilst the other freedom belongs to the bird that is freed”. Her art work consists of an assembled wooden board, with 6 wooden cages attached on it. These cages hold 5 real birds and one wooden, sculptured bird. On Sunday Mirella stood next to her piece, sang a children’s song titled ‘We Have a Tree’ and freed one of the birds. “I am questioning the materiality of the wood which comes from the tree, the tree which houses the birds. The irony is that human beings take the birds away from the tree, and then turn the tree into wooden cages and use them to lock up the birds”.

Mirella Salame and her performative installation “freedom and freedom”.

Life and Thousand Questions by Nabil Richani


Woody Fox Car by Hussein Nassouri. Photograph by Marlena Ayat.

I was invited to be on the judging panel of the competition and I arrived early on Sunday. It was a glorious sunny day where I received a warm and inviting welcome by MACAM’s founders, Cesar Nammour and Gabriele Schaub. Lunch followed the official business of judging, it was set outdoors in the gardens around the museum. The property is surrounded by both the mountains and the sea in the distance. A gorgeous timber cabin is perched on top of the hill, and it serves as Cesar’s and Gabriele’s weekend home. The views from up the top are breathtaking, and so serene.

Cesar Nammour and Gabriele Schaub

The outdoor lunch at MACAM with our hosts Cesar and Gabriele, the panel of judges and guests. Photograph by Marlena Ayat.

The cabin on top of the hill. Photograph by Marlena Ayat

MACAM’s birth developed naturally as one idea generated another. Both Cesar and Gabriele are passionate about art, and they felt a deep need to document and archive art in Lebanon. The result was Recto Verso Library, which currently holds the largest collection of books in Lebanon on past and present Lebanese art. Following on from that, the idea of conservation and preservation of art emerged. They realised that almost all of the installation art in Lebanon eventually gets destroyed, so they came up with the notion of offering artists the opportunity to store their work in a factory which the couple owned on the beautiful hills of Alita, in the district of Jbeil. This was welcomed by many artists and the collection of these art works lead to have them exhibited at the factory. An NGO was then created and MACAM was born. Artists were offered to have their art works exhibited at the museum as part of A Panorama of Sculpture in Lebanon. It is a permanent exhibition which showcases one century of sculpture for  65 established Lebanese artists, with works in metal, wood, stone, ceramics and installation. Cesar told me that the generosity of the artists was overwhelming, art works were delivered on a trust basis with only one artist requesting a receipt. ” This is the Lebanese way you see, to trust us with their precious work, no questions asked”.

Cesar’s And Gabriela’s ideas have not dried up. Today, MACAM holds workshops for children from various age groups. Their aim is to promote art appreciation and to foster creativity. Many art competitions have also taken place, with some of them involving university students. The museum also holds one exhibition per year, the latest is titled The Age of Wood and the opening is on next Saturday, the 15th of November. The Age of Wood exhibition highlights the work of renowned Lebanese sculptor Youssef Basbous.

For more information about MACAM and The Age of Wood exhibition, do check their website:http://www.macamlebanon.com

Children’s art work hangs on the wall of the workshop room, at MACAM.

With author and fellow panel judge, Jad El Hage. Photograph by Marlena Ayat.

With Cesar Nammour in MACAM’s surrounding grounds. Photograph by Marlena Ayat

Nabil Basbous, the son of Youssef Basbous, featured sculptor in current exhibition Age of Wood, and myself next to one of his sculptures.