Aathira Peedikaparambil Somasundaran (Cardiff University)


Aathira Peedikaparambil Somasundaran is a Ph.D. candidate and is currently researching the transposition of modernist architecture to the Middle East and the diverse exchanges between artists and architects in interwar Beirut. As part of this research, she is conducting archival research in Paris and Beirut.  She has a master’s degree in interior design from Dubai, where she worked as an interior designer for seven years and participated in several art exhibitions. She teaches on the Undergraduate programme at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, where she is currently based.


Migration as the Trigger for Change in the Levant Art Tradition

The early 1900s was when a new generation of Lebanese artists had been newly directed towards the international abstraction in art. Painters during this period continued their quest for a personal style, defined by vibrant colours, bright lights, and withholding the ancient customs of their Arab ancestry. The career path taken by the pioneers of modern art in Lebanon got replicated enough to form a pattern, where Lebanese artists recognised travel as an inevitable part of art inspiration. This pattern was initiated with the traditional artists who gained formal art-training through their international experience and exposing their peers and successors to the international art scene. The difference between the evolved international standard of art and the immature local art scenario, that was apparent to the artist, might have unconsciously created a void, which he or she sought to fill with western elements. The existing western immigrants displaying a more privileged life, also might have induced the need to associate with western elements to mimic their aura of popularity. The promotion of local artwork that exhibited western influence, by the wealthier section in Lebanon, casually induced a shift in the market demand of art from traditional art to modern art. The unceasing invasions and migrations in Beirut might have led to the creation of an aura of tolerance of external ideals amongst the locals, as a by-product. However, the existing literature hasn’t been able to identify a unique trigger which might have catalysed the transition of modernism into Levart art.  This paper will revisit the key elements in the history of Lebanon, that propelled the Levant art modernism in the early 20th Century and connect such instances by identifying a common trigger. Material from print media material in the 1950s will be referred to investigate how modernist art was staged in Lebanon and understand the perception of the changes that occurred during the period. How has artists and patrons overcome personal and territorial boundaries to bring unison between the west and the Levant? To what extent has this bi-directional migration invoked a shift in the perception of nature which influenced the local art scenes? This paper will shed light into the unique factor that provoked the shift in the local art scene of Twentieth century Lebanon.