'Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth".' (Genesis 11:4)
An Expressionist rendition of the Tower of Babel, the present work is undeniably one of Ayman Baalbaki's masterpieces. A legacy of Hieronymous Cock's and Pieter the Brueghel's depictions of Babel, Ayman Baalbaki's monumental painting disengages with classical art history to become a tale of loss, disorder and anguish, albeit set on a background of hope and light.
Born in Odeisse, South Lebanon in 1975, Baalbaki fled to Beirut during the Civil War and Israeli Occupation, settling in the area of Wadi Abu Jamil, amongst many displaced communities, each with their own distinctive religious and cultural backgrounds. At a young age, Baalbaki experienced dislocation and devastation, feelings that left an indelible mark on him as a person and evidently as an artist. With his destructed and dismembered buildings, alongside his portraits of Moulatham wearing the symbolic keffiyeh or his paintings of abandoned tyres and soldier's helmets, Baalbaki's works reveal an expressive power that hold autobiographical resonances.
It is undoubtedly evident that the personal history and background of Ayman Baalbaki have impacted his work as an artist. His paintings reveal the effects of exile and life as a refugee; Babel subtly epitomises all historical and social references that define Baalbaki's visual vocabulary and hint at the reconstruction efforts in cities following an era of war and ravaging conflicts. As Baalbaki alludes to the destruction and miscommunication that overrule the society in times of conflict, his works are reminiscent of Tagreed Darghouth's paintings who as both artists evoke the everlasting conflicts that took place throughout Lebanese history. The present work is unique and exceptional; one of his rare vertical landscape compositions, Babel captivates the viewer and embarks him on a journey of torment and anguish whilst being visually harmonious and well balanced. The strokes of red and brown hues and the heavily impastoed brushstrokes recreate a burning sensation. It is as if Baalbaki has depicted a specific moment in time where powers have joined to express their anger and fury.
Baalbaki's Babel is not the classical nor the symbolic tower in the sense vowed by Flemish art history, it has rather become an expressionist and phantasmagorical landscape void of any human presence hence ghosting the tower itself, as if to reflect a scene impacted by war or perhaps superstitiously, following a malediction. A testament to the sense of destruction and traumatic experience, both physical and psychological, the work provokes a distressing feeling as the Tower of Babel, once a fantasy and allegory of union and peace, appears partly decimated and entirely deserted.
Unquestionably a masterpiece in the oeuvre of Ayman Baalbaki, Babel won the Silver Medal at Les Jeux de la Francophonie in Niamey, Niger in 2005. Universal in the sense that it delivers a double meaning, Babel captures the chaotic atmosphere of Beirut while it evokes the global disruptive social and political climate of the Middle East and beyond.