DUBAI: Nadim Karam was among the many artists deeply affected by the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020.
The 65-year-old artist and architect has been inspired by the Lebanese capital throughout his decades-long career and his colossal metal sculpture ‘The Gesture’ – created a year after the tragedy – was his way of expressing her grief and trauma.
“I couldn’t function and go on living without offering a gesture to the victims of the explosion and the sadness of Beirut,” Karam told Arab News. “Hundreds of people died in the explosion, but I was still alive.”
The sculpture, made of metal recovered from the explosion, now stands in the heart of Beirut. “I created ‘The Gesture’ with a team of caring professionals and we all volunteered our efforts, time and expertise to ensure that what happened will never be forgotten,” says Karam.
“The Gesture” is typical of Karam’s work, which tends both to make statements and to ask questions, as evidenced by his contribution to “The Sublime Nature of Being”, an immersive multi-sensory exhibition which recently opened its doors at DIFC Dubai, featuring artists from around the world.
Curated by Ambika Hinduja Macker, who is an artist in her own right as well as the founder and creative director of design firm Impeccable Imagination, the exhibition explores the influence of nature on the human experience. The showcase features everything from large-scale sculptures to light and shadow installations.
Karam began sketching his ideas for ‘Sublime Silence’, included in the exhibition, in 2015. As its name suggests, it is a piece based on the concepts of speech and silence. And like ‘The Gesture’, it has a deeper meaning than at first glance suggests.
“I feel like authentic communication is overwhelmed by the amount of noise,” says Karam. “The downside of our instant global communication networks is that there is too much shouting to attract attention on social media. Silence, allowing reflection and deep reflection, has become a scarce and precious commodity. For for me, silence is at the source and at the essence of things.
Another work by Karam presented in the exhibition — “Memory Lapse” — also examines a dichotomy: that of emptiness and fullness. It consists of two sculptures facing each other. Karam describes it as experiential work.
“They have reflective, polished and slightly concave surfaces,” he explains. “One is filled with patterns – stories and memories – and represents the past. The other is an empty reflective surface representing the future. As you stand between them, you find the future and the past merged into the present. through your vision.
His third piece takes up a recurring motif from his work: The elephant.
“I’m attached to the elephant, both to its physical properties and how it cares about its community and has long memories,” he says. “In fact, I use the elephant to launch any new idea in my work.
While emblematic of his artistic practice, “Crystal Elephant” is also something of a new approach for Karam. This is the first time he has used crystals in his work. “They are reflective and alive, generating movement when touched, and they radiate a beautiful energy into the space around them,” he explains.
Karam also has some of his work – “On Parade” – on permanent display at AlUla. It was created as part of the first iteration of Desert X AlUla, the second edition of which is currently underway.