Zena Assi

Zena ASSI (Lebanon, born in 1974 - London).


Zena Assi is a Lebanese mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist. Born in Lebanon, in 1974, Zena Assi lives and works between Beirut and London. She grad­u­ated with honors from l’Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts (ALBA), where she received a master’s degree in adver­tise­ment. Later on she worked in Saatchi&Saatchi adver­tise­ment agency for a few years in Beirut, and taught drawing and visual com­mu­ni­ca­tion in dif­ferent uni­ver­si­ties. Since 2005, she has been pro­ducing artistic work to depict and por­tray the socio-cul­tural aspect of our con­tem­po­rary urban society.

After living and working in her birth country for 40 years, Assi moved to the UK in 2014. Her con­tem­po­rary work draws inspi­ra­tion from the rela­tions and con­flicts between the indi­vidual and his spa­tial envi­ron­ment, society and its sur­round­ings. Her pieces are punc­tu­ated by strong visual ref­er­ences to her native Beirut and the predica­ment of its cit­i­zens. The work takes shape in instal­la­tion, ani­ma­tion, sculp­ture, and mainly paint­ings. Many of her pieces were repeat­edly shown in dif­ferent inter­na­tional auc­tion houses (Christie’s Dubai, Sotheby’s London, and Bonhams London) and are part of var­ious public as well as pri­vate col­lec­tions.
Assi has exhib­ited in solo as well as col­lec­tive shows across Europe, the Middle East and the United States of America including- Alwane gallery (Beirut Lebanon), Subtitled Apeal Royal College of Art (London UK), Artsawa gallery (Dubai UAE), Zoom Art Fair (Miami USA), Shubbak (London UK), Beirut Art Fair Biel (Beirut Lebanon), Abu Dhabi art fair (Abu Dhabi UAE), Espace Claude Lemand (Paris France), Cairo Biennale (Cairo Egypt), Rebirth Beirut Exhibition Center (Beirut Lebanon), The Mall gal­leries (London, UK), Albareh gallery (Manama-Kingdom of Bahrein), CAP Contemporary Art Platform Gallery Space (Kuwait), Art13 & Art14 London Fair (London UK), Overture Show of Contemporary Art (Miami USA), Journey through our her­itage BEC Beirut Exhibition Center (Beirut Lebanon), London Art Biennale (London UK) and Venice Art Biennale (Venice Italy).

Ideas and Works

Themes that are cen­tral to her vision include pre­sent-day issues related to coun­tries in the Middle East as they battle with internal strife and civilian unrest. The artist uses var­ious sup­ports and mediums to doc­u­ment and explore the cul­tural and social changes around her.

Her work repli­cates the tumult, angst and cacophony that everyday life in the city is fraught with. Assi’s use of pallid colors, jagged angular out­lines and intri­cate lay­ering, imbues inan­i­mate objects, land­scapes and build­ings, with the emo­tional bur­dens of their inhab­i­tants. The artist’s cen­tral con­cerns evolve around issues of dual iden­ti­ties, mul­ti­plicity, and the poten­tial for residing in this ‘in-between’ space.

City from the ‘Brain-drain’ series
This series of work is an attempt to put on canvas the land­scape of a con­stantly shifting city, where the infras­truc­ture it is built upon is a tower made of books. It empha­sizes the notion that building a country starts with edu­cating and taking care of its youth.

During more than 45 years of insta­bility, Lebanon has been wit­nessing a con­stant and painful migra­tion of its youth. After Beirut’s explo­sion, the ques­tion is even more pressing: how can a country sub­sist eco­nom­i­cally, socially, as well as cul­tur­ally, in light of such a colossal human­i­tarian crisis?

Portraits from ‘Still life’ series
As I absorb nar­ra­tives and imageries from my sur­round­ings and fuse them into my prac­tice, some pieces are highly per­sonal and come from my own sto­ries and expe­ri­ences about expa­tri­a­tion.

During lock­down I started wan­dering into the com­plex­i­ties of inte­rior and exte­rior life, con­stancy and change, the fenced home and the out­side world… hence the por­trait paint­ings from the ‘Still life in quar­an­tine’ series. I painted my son and daughter, sit­ting still, in their inti­mate envi­ron­ment, the safety of their home. They are wearing a top made of col­lages from Lebanon’s var­ious sceneries.

After the double explo­sion in Lebanon on the 4th of August, these por­traits took another meaning, and this moment of peace and silence ended up being the calm before the storm. Like a fore­shadow, a pre­mo­ni­tion of the dis­aster to come, the explo­sion that will shake Beirut’s grounds leaving 300000 people home­less.
These paint­ings tackle the idea of self-preser­va­tion, and the impos­si­bility of having a bubble without it being pierced at some point in time by the over­pow­ering vio­lence of your sur­round­ings.

My City framed in colors, 2014.
Zena Assi’s latest series of paint­ings My City Wall, are inspired by her per­sonal expe­ri­ence of moving to a new place as well as the plight of immi­grants who are being forced to move due to the polit­ical and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions in their coun­tries. Her mixed media works speak about the emo­tional, social and cul­tural bag­gage due to dis­place­ment and the cross-cul­tural con­flicts caused by migra­tion. They deal with the struggle of ques­tioning our own cul­ture when faced with a new one, of tack­ling issues of iden­tity when we are rewriting our own sto­ries based on tainted mem­o­ries. ‘My city is treated as a fabric, a kalei­do­scope of sym­bols; the Calligraphy becomes graf­fiti on walls, the urban tissue becomes an embroi­dered panel; the land­scape becomes the weaving of a tex­tile treated with my por­traits as minia­tures and dec­o­ra­tive illu­mi­na­tions’. This series of work is an attempt to put on canvas the land­scape of a con­stantly shifting city. The notion of a vibrant secure city haven is being exposed only to see what’s beneath; it is fixed on a canvas only to wit­ness its hollow pre­fab­ri­cated infras­truc­ture. ‘In Zena Assi’s works, sym­bols and codes accu­mu­late; one must look closely at the paint­ings to dis­tin­guish every detail of which some refer to older works. Other ele­ments of the décor are nev­er­the­less dis­turbing; the recur­ring pres­ence of adver­tising bill­boards and posters for con­sumer prod­ucts, luxury items, or big com­pa­nies of the Net, empha­sizes that despite of the sit­u­a­tion, life goes on and trade resumes its rights…’

Inspired by Egon Schiele, him­self a pro­tégé of Gustav Klimt, Assi’s work is about the weight and bag­gage of civ­i­liza­tion on the ordi­nary person, and the link and dichotomy between the two. It often reflects the sit­u­a­tion in Lebanon and addresses the issues of war, peace, silence, hope and indi­vidual frus­tra­tion.

Copyright © Galerie Claude Lemand 2012.

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