From January 12 to February 26, 2016
Alice Mogabgab – Beirut presents the exhibition
Dorothy Salhab Kazemi
A pioneer of ceramic art in the Middle East, Dorothy Salhab Kazimi, born 1942, died prematurely in 1990, leaving behind a key body of work, now part of the history of modern art in Lebanon. During her short life and career Dorothy Salhab Kazimi, through her talent, passion and tenaciousness brought renewed recognition to the art of ceramics, until then considered mere handicraft.
The exhibition A collection, ceramics by Dorothy Salhab Kazimi presents thirty-eight pieces by this Lebanese artist, as well as a set of hundred and eighty ceramic tiles, never shown before, and originating from the Sami Karkabi collection. This momentous collection, acquired in its entirety by the Alice Mogabgab Gallery, was established by Mr Karkabi between 1970 and 1990. Selected for their great unity, the exhibited works consist of pots, plates, bowls, cups, jugs, and vases: vessels of life and tiles with circular motifs. The forms are sober and generous, the materials raw and sensuous, the colours subtle and intense. In this way Dorothy Salhab Kazimi’s work absorbs the light so as to better reflect the richness of her art.
After studying arts and crafts at the Beirut College for Women (today LAU) and English literature at the American University in Beirut, Dorothy Salhab Kazimi enrolled in 1964 at the Kunsthåndværkerskolen (School of Design) in Copenhagen, and studied from 1966 under the renowned Danish ceramicist Gutte Eriksen. From 1968 to 1970, she taught ceramics in Glasgow, where she deepened her knowledge of the methods of Oriental ceramics influenced by Bernard Leach. Upon her return to Lebanon in 1970 she developed her own techniques from past experiences, from her fascination with Islamic ceramic art and love of excavated objects.
“She was a true and refined artist with a very elegant style, a sensibility nurtured by the best sources because of her complex cultural background: intellectual and artistic, Eastern and Western. This interaction in her art between the intellectual and the instinctual, between East and West, was as total and intimate as the one between the enamel and the clay that results from the firing,” says Joseph Tarrab (2) in Dorothy Salhab Kazimi, The spirit of pot, Antoine Editions.
The collector Sami Karkabi knew Dorothy Salhab Kazimi very well. From their friendship he recalls some personal memories: “I met Dorothy for the first time in Beirut in 1971, at the premises of daily newspaper L’Orient, who had organised a presentation of ‘artisans at work’. The demonstration of throwing clay given by Dorothy caught my attention in the way one is fascinated to see clay turn into pots or plates. I was not knowledgeable enough to see in this exercise the prospect of a great artist.
In 1972 an exhibition of her work at the Contact Gallery presented not only pots and plates but also pieces that broke out of the utilitarian framework to evolve into object-sculptures. I understood then that an artisan could be an artist too.
It was in 1975 at the occasion of her exhibition in the wonderful setting of Des Artisans du Liban at Aïn Mraïsseh that I became very excited by the sight of her sculptures displayed facing the sea. I asked Dorothy’s permission to visit her studio. So I went to her studio-apartment in Rue May Ziade, composed of two rooms, one large and bright, fitted out with a workbench surmounted by three shelves loaded with enamelled objects as well as others waiting to be so. An adjacent equally bright room contained her precious potter’s wheel and her materials. She said: “As for the wheel, it has its own rhythm, a circular symmetry. The circles fascinate me: their form is so elemental. Moreover, one can feel the motion of the wheel in a well-thrown pot […] like the infinite rings or waves in water”. For Dorothy the energy released from the rotating wheel was similar to the Sufi whirling – both lead to ecstasy.
Dorothy employed local clay whose beauty revealed itself in the firing. “Clay, she said, is a very living thing. I try to be honest with this material, to stretch it and explore its potential without compromising it. It has an extraordinary energy and motion; it hits you in the gut”.
How not to think of Omar Khayyâm’s quatrain, written a thousand years ago:
Yesterday, at the market, there was a potter,
Kneading his lump of clay without respite.
My inner ear heard him sigh and whine:
“Brother, treat me gently. Once I was like you.”
Dorothy prepared her enamels from ashes of olive and orangewood, mixed with ferruginous minerals and ochre pigment. I do not know the origin of her blue colour; it may be cobalt. The firing at very high temperatures enabled her to obtain not only very strong stoneware but gave her colours great subtlety. To achieve the colours she wanted, she had to test, analyse and weigh each element.
Although she, on one occasion, allowed me to help with stacking the kiln, Dorothy was otherwise recalcitrant when it came to taking out the fired pieces. She undoubtedly kept the ultimate satisfaction of discovering her fired enamels for herself. Thus, in her own words: the most beautiful moments of my life are those of looking into the open kiln and being surprised by my finished creations.”
(1) Persian poet and mathematician from the 11th and 12th century, author of the famous Rubayïat.
(2) Lebanese art critic and author of numerous writings on modern and contemporary art in Lebanon.