Threadbare: Familiar Ground of Beirut’s Traced Histories

by Ziad Suidan

[…] The past can be seized only as an image which flashes

up at the instant when it can be recognised and is never

seized again. […]

(Benjamin, Walter, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”)[1]

How can a “now- time” open up when the past of the oppressed is being gazed upon by a frozen distanced observer and buried by a constant piling up of catastrophes? Tom Young’s exhibit “Full Circle” evokes this question, as did Benjamin’s essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940). Tom Young’s collaborative exhibit joins up with Benjamin’s essay where it concerns those histories of the oppressed that are suppressed by historiography’s raised sensibility. Under globalisation’s multi-directional yet universal drive, utter oblivion takes the visual form of dereliction and rubble as a mass production of Chicago Skylines go up. This is certainly the case in the Arabian Gulf and, in recent years, Beirut. The time for Tom Young’s art exists in the between-ness of arrested time where senses are provoked and redirected by letters, music, and an ever-present sense of a brush stroke that fades to dream-like lyricism, moves delicately over raw memories, and emboldens over-exposed and unrecorded time. Audiences in the United States often read Beirut as a bygone “Paris of the Middle East” overtaken by visions of Orientalised chaos that reads the Lebanese Civil War. Young’s exhibit, in its multi-mediated and collaborative form, produces the moment to re-member the city and the threadbare histories dwelling precariously in it where the concretised progress of capital’s primitive accumulation is likely to pave them over.

Today, Beirut, as a city, is one of chaotic development where even from a plane one can see the squalor of the poor and displaced next to and being overcome by an enclosure of skyscrapers. 

But in between that area are histories that linger between, between places of flight and vulnerability, between survival and ever-compressed spaces of agglomerating flight and temporariness, often fetishised by tents and fading traces of people and vanishing landscapes. Young’s exhibit seeks to intermingle those signifiers of threatened forgetfulness next to objects of effluvia. Perfume bottles and golden-aged memories are blended in a blur, giving way to the speed of capital’s primitive accumulation. That blurring is counterpoised to means and perspectives of memory and remembrances of suppressed histories. “Full Circle” is a memoranda of letters detailing survival in the aftermath of catastrophe and constant relocation. It is a set of contrapuntal musical tonalities, and a convening of memory for an Armenian community whose trace in Beirut is populated marginally and threatened with being forgotten by means of recollection and otherwise competing voices of catastrophe and dislocation. This is what it means to seek out an opening for a “now-time” that flits by, flashes up, clearing out mass-produced memories. 

That opening not only re-contextualizes the possibility for art in the rage of a terrifying capital pace but arrests it by moving against its directed pace. Tom Young’s “Full Circle” is a trace of history meeting others at convergences of threat to life and a remembered way of life.

Baloumian family portrait installation (painted from found passports) at the Carousel exhibition in the house, 2013

Multi-Mediated Remembrance: The Intense Throbbing of Now Time

Memories can never be whole. But they can throb, pulsate, intensify and concentrate our gaze just before one is struck with their passing moment. The passing over of transitory recall recognizes the in-transit-oriness of time taking us to elsewheres that if not recalled will be overcome by historiography’s flow. 

Those elsewheres are ever populated, and jammed up with other significances that proliferate with signifiers of shared, contrapuntal, and disjunctive time that cannot make way for coherent elaboration, unless multi-mediated in such a way as Tom Young’s exhibit does in its lettered, oral, and tonal co-existences. Young’s art-practice in its multi-mediated and collaborative form defers history’s “mocking of its victims and heroes” it will not “glance at the passing and go on.”[2]

Mardiros Baloumian installation, at the 'Revival' exhibition in the house, 2017. This was the exact place in the house where Baloumian wrote his testimony of surviving the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Hand written notes, sound recordings, musical scores and books found in the house are displayed under the portrait. (photo by Karim Sakr)

Tom Young’s Art as Memory:

Often times, one looks at an artwork and responds to it at the time of viewing. But Tom Young’s exhibits are always gateways through the artistic process: How did the artist become interested in such projects? Is that project one comes to find or is it singularly directed? How does the process of putting on an exhibit—being open to the founding of histories, incorporating those forms into artistic expression, and framing the familiar differently—bring about the reframing of the visual? If one is to bring to art the appeal of suppressed histories at the time of their threatened oblivion, one must ask what must be done to present them as histories under threat.

Young’s entrance into the Armenian history of Beirut was neither expected, programmed or directive. It has a different sense of time, a different calendar, one as much open to the possibility of the marginalized as it is noble in its aspirations to represent nostalgia, etymologically speaking, the pain of return. It is a calendar of re-membrance of the oppressed that opens itself to that which historiography and its time obviate.

As Young’s art seeks to stave off forgetting with restorative and untimely interventions along the globalized ecological and architectural landscapes of Lebanon, his work is also his own search for a home.

For his restorative engagements, this does not find itself in a particular site. Rather, home is found in the effort to arrest the time of globalisation and capture traces of the “whole range of emotions” that comprise the theatre of Lebanon. Against the forgetting and privatisation so akin with the reorganisation of Lebanon, Young’s collaborative artistic journeys—along Lebanon’s terraced mountainsides, Villa Paradiso, and the Rose House—restore a lingering sense of home. In the case of Villa Paradiso, restoration is moved to return a sense of home at a time of threatened physical destruction, to a family ripped asunder by the tremors of Civil War, where their memories are publicly unacknowledged and muted, and the threat of demolition to public landmarks, up until now, included their own. 

In so doing, Young’s art exhibits a “structure of feeling” (Raymond Williams) about Lebanon. His artwork traces the lived experience of a community distinct from the institutional and ideological organization of the society. In so doing, his efforts allow him an engaged vantage point that reconnects people to their seemingly distanced memories and gives him, in his approach, a sense of familiarity, more so, a sense of home.

Studio in the house (2013), with boxes of found objects which had remained untouched for nearly forty years.

So often, Lebanon is marked by claims of “natural” beauty, or its famed ruins, or by its seaside “golden-ages.” Young’s art places these terms under erasure. In the case of his entry into Lebanon, it was a commission from his London-based-Lebanese mechanic that allowed Young’s art to conceive of a Lebanese mountainside that was reflective of its agricultural past that today too often finds itself buried in garbage. The terraced landscapes, reminiscent of a Hamaoui watercolour, come alive due to organised concern for the earth itself. In so doing, Tom’s Lebanon not only allowed him to give his mechanic a sense of home he longed for but gives to Lebanon a bit of its aestheticised beauty without natural sentiment.

Currently, his art has revisited that mountainside. In that re-engagement, stories of endurance among garbage heaps, stories that rested in its valleys, and stories brought on pigeon-wings evince a Lebanon in the midst of its local and exilic histories. As such Lebanon, for Young’s art, exists in the midst of a Beckettian End Game.

Villa Paradiso: An Instance of Beirut’s Precarious Histories

Since 2013, Tom Young’s art practice has been engaged in restoring places that are hauntingly beautiful. The sites are publicly unrecognized treasures. Their histories have been suppressed and are, currently, peeling away inside derelict mansions. His approach is never that of a distant observer; his means of making art is one that engages the traces left behind. These traces take his work through letters, memorabilia and interviews with those who still feel akin, longing for the Beirut of their lingering memory. 

Original typewriter found in the house in 2013. It has Armenian letters.

This memory is one of a fading lively Beirut of the 1940s through the 1960s, one that lingers in spite of the chaos of Civil War and globalization’s universalizing drive.

Villa Paradiso was home to the Baloumian family. It was a place of love, music, and learning directed by Mardiros and his wife, Aghavne Baloumian, historically sandwiched between the Armenian genocide and the Lebanese Civil War. For Mardiros, the owner, it was a home that marked the years of successful road building in Greater Syria and, later, Lebanon. But it was also a place that, for him, staged the on-going task of the Armenian people since 1915. 

His Honour Christopher Young, in a 2013 lecture titled “Out of Armenia,” defined this task as “the need to seek justice for and recognition of the ordeal of [Mardiros’s] people”, an ordeal that, in the words of Mardiros Baloumian, constituted “the blood-thirsty brutalities and acts of vandalism which I have witnessed during the extermination of my own family and my compatriots that have haunted me as a terrifying nightmare day and night and have not given me a moments peace in my life”. (Cyprus Weekly, April 24th, 1981).

As such, the home was a site of lively thought and living haunted by pain, a feeling that Karine Koroukian, the pianist granddaughter of Mardiros and Aghavne Baloumian, lives out in her musical recitals in New York- recordings of which she sent to Young before his exhibition in Villa Paradiso. Mardiros’s home is also extended to a shop called “Carousel” where Mardiros’s son Barouir sold perfumes and fashionable items in a Beirut before it was ravaged by Civil War. Villa Paradiso is a treasure trove of a home that bears out a window of happiness amidst a century of catastrophes throughout the Arab world and Levant. Its history is a travail of love. 

Villa Paradisos draw is, as some others throughout the Middle East, “the intoxicating proximity there of grief to joy and love to fury, the scale and the awful clarity of the injustice, and people’s resilience in the face of it.”[3]

Original invitation card found in the house in 2013

Its proof lies in its owner’s own inseparability from Beirut while Lebanon was undergoing its catastrophic Civil War. An architectural treasure of Beirut came to wear the face of Lebanon’s savage sectarian brutality. While many in his family sought out safer shores, like so many who could, the grandfather, Mardiros Baloumian, remained. While Lebanon was torn asunder by sectarian warfare and entrenchment, Mardiros’s road construction company had the distinguished record of employing many minorities throughout Syria and Lebanon, among them Palestinians. 

More so, his home was a site of musical education that defied the border of religious inscription. As his vendor shops ran aground, his liquor sales saw a divided Beirut pass through his shop. 

This home holds the account of a mortgage allowing members of his family to seek out new paths in an otherwise crippled Beirut. His son, Barouir, nearly lost his life traveling between sectarian militia street fighting that defined Beirut for much of the fifteen year Civil War. The house even became the site of a grandfather’s life under military quartering in 1983. With his death that same year, Baloumian's former home went the way of so many architectural treasures—into a trace unobserved and unmarked until the Feghali family, Lebanese Christians, bought it in 2002 and Tom Young became involved in restoration work in 2013 that witnessed an unearthing of a family’s lettered history that gave way to painted recall. Villa Paradiso is more than a site, more than a treasure trove, it is a meeting place of contradictions that are emergent in a fading grandeur in a Beirut that is going the way of globalised manufacture. It is, as such, “the negative space between contraries” where one “can learn to venture” (Ian Sinclair, Objects of Obscure Desire, 2013). This is what Tom Young’s collaboration in restoring the house does: it is not about making a treasure but about realising the potential of forgotten histories by those who stand in and re-present the voice of the absent-present remnant.

Still, Young did not just have an interest in recalling this work or uncovering a treasure but returning it to its living inheritors where they now live in New York. In doing so, Tom Young also came to reaffirm a relation with his father, His Honour Christopher Young, through affiliation of publicly recognising Armenian history. In refiguring his relation with his father through publicly acknowledging the Armenians’ marginalised history, his work also evoked a secret that Tom Young’s art came to transpose to Beirut, that of his mother. These emergent histories are furthermore proof-positive that the potential of the scent of the rhizomatic jasmine that drew Tom Young inside Villa Paradiso also allowed him to tap into offshoots of Beirut’s history as yet unrecognised.

His Honour Christopher Young gives a lecture 'Out of Armenia' at Villa Paradiso during the exhibition 'Carousel' in 2013

From Engagement to Aesthetic

These emerging histories provide a counter-hegemonic archive to a nationalistic Lebanese historiography. Tom Young’s restorative art recognizes that move as a precarious trace. The fragrant trace of the jasmine flower seduces one into the narratives that dwell within. Inside, the visible and emergent histories that Villa Paradiso offers at times dance and, at times, jostle with each other. Those photographed and painted histories can be loosely grouped as such: a contrast of washed out, solid clean lines and haunting dreamscapes of restoration; black-and-white oil paintings and figures of coloured isolation; blurred, wiping of Beirut’s beach scenes, and traces of Beirut vendor merchandise snatched away revealing boxes and boxed in lives; a juxtaposition of over-worked Ferris wheels and landscapes of unequal development that turn carousels into dump sites for refuse and the unwanted; and, a set of paintings and photographs that open up a space for healing for the family cruelly separated from its past. This collection of photographs and paintings ask about the Beirut that is vanishing, having already been suppressed and publicly cast aside.

Tom Young’s exhibition as narration is a window onto this bittersweet remembrance. The lyrical tonalities of letters and conversations and music are one part of this telling. The other side poses the question of how faded, over-exposed photographs preserved in boarded up boxes in the midst of departure and quartering meet up with its painted remembrance. Villa Paradiso, as painted by Young, is a soft immanent farewell to a home that still lingers on. It is a welcome of the real to a home still standing, undergoing renovated appeal, which for Young’s exhibited narration does not seek to make pristine but rather allows the home to linger on in stilled form.

What better way to start than to welcome its audience with the faded grandeur of Villa Paradiso in its last year of lived in life (“1983”), move toward foreclosure in the meeting of promise and unequal development (“Carousel City”), and leave one longing and dreaming of a healing of sorts for a family torn from its past? Such was the state of affairs of Villa Paradiso before new owner Remi Feghali’s and Tom Young’s intervention, such was the hope of 1960s’ Beirut, presently, its globalised disappearing present, and a hoped for future to come. Beirut 1983 meets Beirut 1958 meets the contradictions of Beirut 2016. Constellating such dates, Full Circle takes us on an undulating journey that allows hope to linger on in the face of the home’s fading grandeur and Beirut’s tapering hopes. That meeting brings promise and dereliction together. While belying the home’s military quartering, “Beit Yasmine” foregrounds jasmine’s scented evocation giving hope to a home that had to be fled and, up until recently, wore its former owner’s absence.

'Beit Yasmine (2013)'- the house as Tom Young found it in 2013, before full renovation

In listening to His Honour Christopher Young’s lecture “Out of Armenia”(2013) which he gave in the house, and considering Tom Young’s profiles of the Baloumian family, one is struck by both the travail and hope of the family. On entering the home, Tom Young’s black and white oil portraits of the Baloumian family, painted from and counter to found passports, capture the simple, courageous nobility of this family. There is no colour in the painting as with elite members of an important family remembered in portraiture. In that sense, it does not look like turn of the twentieth century Arabic portraiture nor does it resemble European portraiture of any particular style. Tom Young’s style captures the strong hard dignity of a family whose grandparents’ generation bore out the value of everyday labor. The portraits are governed by chiaroscuro giving depth to the hard working history of the grandfather’s generation. Mardiros wears the long years of history on his face steadfastly, a history of an unofficial sort that recalls the door of distant airports, wheat fields, prisons, white tombstones, and against all of that a thriving contracting business in Syria and Lebanon. Aghavne retains her youthful elegance but her eyes give way to a mournful front, a look that plays off the sheet music found in the home. Contrastingly, the daughter, Alice, wears the studious and fashionable look of middle-class life. The son, Barouir, rests confidently in his young days, Kafkaesque yet of more muscular jaw, at times, angularly recalled, most especially in the photo life outside the Carousel shop in the 1960s where business meets the life of the female dandy.

Portraits painted from discarded passports found in the house in 2013, at the exhibition in New York in 2016.

Top: Mardiros Baloumian (left), and his wife Aghavne (right)

Bottom: Their son Barouir (left) and daughter Alice (right)

Newspaper photograph from 1960's showing the Carousel shop in Rue Phoenici, Zaytouny, Beirut. (Barouir Baloumian is the tall man on the left, with his business partner Mihran Ghoghorian, who gave me this image).

The thin, mature, muscular, angularity of the son meets with the enduringly thinned and corroded skeletal structure of the home. The paintings respond in equal measure of ambiguity and contrast. A makeshift artist studio is a contrast of greys, at times, presented in strong and clear lines, at times, run-down, and, at times, in the midst of excavated restoration. The promise for Villa Paradiso is one of strength measured in realistic doses. Desaturated tonalities give way to the soft play of light ushering in a kaleidoscopic white that offsets dark greys of life boarded up to the sides. It is a memory not so much of dereliction but of absence, a space left to the elements and open to unattended care. Still, absence has a haunting presence. An angular series of staircases recall to mind the breath of active children whose gaze meets the boarded up likeness of neighbourliness and; at times, the blazing light of a Beirut whizzing by as in “Studio.” Dwelling in the space of others allows Young’s art to consider what it means to co-exist with a trace. His paintings of the house in the midst of restoration do not crystalize an image but show its passing streaks of promise. Such is the hope of the oppressed—to endure rather than to certify certain success.

With such traces of promise comes the bustle of a life still treading upon Villa Paradiso. That tread is not wiped away but accumulates life forms across it. The house has seen the promise of life of Beirut pass on to its civil war chaos, has been left derelict by the glare of Beirut’s global reconstruction, and, now, is undergoing restoration. So how to paint that fading in and out of industrial textile? In “Studio Tiles” Young’s art seeks out the floor as an object of desire. But it is not to paint the tread of shoes or the scrapes left by metallic substance. It is to render it as an abstract colour palette that at times resorts to a layering approach and others to a blending one. It is one that leaves the textile of the floor a pastiche and the artwork as a dance of life.

With this multitude of tread there is a question of what has been covered over? What cannot be looked at? What might have faded away? After all the life of Villa Paradiso is as much about traces that agglomerated in a frenzied energy as they are about a life overlooked, unseen, blocked from view and that in the clearing and sorting out of restoration gives an opening to surface. In the case of the artist, it is a chance to reckon the arrested promise of Beirut’s 1960s lively social contradictions with the unexpected and still raw feeling of his mother’s unexpected passing in his youth. This mournful juxtaposition bridges the abrupt end to the bustle of industrial, cultural, and musical life of Villa Paradiso with the passing of Tom’s mother’s laboured and embodied life. Both the Baloumian family and Tom’s mother bear out precariousness, the former cut short due to immanent threat to life in Civil War chaos, the latter to a singular life that reserves itself to shaded delicacy. The Baloumian family portraits are in white and black profile whereas Tom’s mother, in “Mother,” might be a displaced figure. She does not exactly belong to the passing away of the whimsy and creativity of Beirut public life, or in the house, more generally. She does not belong to any scene of Beirut in particular. She stands alone, almost untouched in her casual wear and bodied vigour. As so many cities screaming, his mother, as a mother, has the appeal of much more, as her rendered muted elegance suggests. Tom’s mother’s profile is cast in delicate shades of pink. At the top of the painting, darker tones meet tanned skin, worker blue and dark blonde hues of wavy hair and a gritted smile; at the bottom, sweet pea pink seeps in offsetting the melancholic unkempt wall on which it stands. The painting’s immediate milieu and feel gives way to the double-valence of security. It is something that for some time has been protected, forbidden to enter, but, now, is beginning to be touched on, given delicate hues to, like Villa Paradiso’s painted restorative efforts.

'Mother' (oil on canvas) with original wall surface, Villa Paradiso, 2013 

Delicate hues produce an ambiguity that allows for variegated shades of public attention. Tom Young’s exhibit can touch on his mother and wash out dereliction; but it also lends itself to snatches of a past whose precariousness lends itself to a boxed in and boxed up reality. Such is the case in “Signs of Life” and “Perfumes,” the still life's Young paints. One barely can see the labels anymore, but there is a trace of the elegant purchase they might once have been. Yet, just as the Beirut of the 1940s through the 1960s, promise has done more than fade; it is being snatched away like the obscure glimpse of finery. That loss of finery is also echoed in the one lone woman’s shoe that might have been worn at a dance at Villa Paradiso. Black and white photos of such liveliness and gaiety and the punctuated dots of traced colour in Young’s painting of the shoe, “A Shoe That She Found” are but prosthetic reminiscence.

'A Shoe That She Found', oil and watercolour on canvas, 60cm x 50cm 

In the snatching is also an uncovering of the boxed up life that had to be so cruelly left behind. This signifies a multiply rooted sufferance. In one sense, it acts as a quickly and hastily put together archive for a family who had to flee or were put under military quartering in the barbarity of the civil war. The photos of beach life are splendid for their open clean dreamy hues and plain spaces, not the busied and artificial resort life that has come to dot Beirut’s shores. Yet because the photos have been placed in boxes with little or no protection, they bare out marks of fading on top of the partial over-exposure their development marks. Time has coated them in yellow and the coming of globalisation has made them a glimpse at reverie. Young’s panting series “Golden Age (Revisited)” recognises the fading appeal of the photo. On one hand, his contrapuntal arrangement of black, white, and grey mixed with Naples yellow achieves a warm sepia halcyon days feel, while on the other hand, his slow fade to slashing stroke across the canvas renders the memory more than just over-exposed. That act both joins the worn photographic record and renders the past it represents bygone.

'Golden Age Two', oil on canvas, 100cm x 130cm

But the boarded up boxes are more than just a poor material substitute for an official archive; they represent the condition of life the Armenians lived and are living in Beirut. Their conditions, like those of their Lebanese neighbours, are nearing encamped dwellings housed one over the other with long periods of inadequate electricity (“Perfumes”). Save for the sounds of nested life and the pictures of the liveliness of the Armenian community, darkness has seeped in. The found photos of Villa Paradiso show a lively group of peoples seated around tables or dancing to music. But the paintings “Stacked 1 & 2” show chairs in the house piled up haphazardly—just as he found them. Not only did the militia invade a home’s and institution’s life but they placed it to the side as if it were nothing more than a sack of potatoes.

'Stacked' (oil and watercolour on canvas), 80cm x 35cm, on site at Villa Paradiso (2017) 

The violation to life deepens as we turn to the overturning of the carousel’s symbolic image. When thinking of the Carousel, the liveliness of freedom and dream overflow; fantasy is the order of the day; youth are not huddling or hiding from sight. Yet, it is not a slow idyllic pace of the Carousel but the force of whipped up speed that uncannily returns us to Young’s paintings of restored promise, the glimpse of hope still to be materialised. But the dazzling light in the “Carousel City” painting is threatened by dark forces. Shops that once marked the landscape have been overtaken by refuse and the refused. The Carousel is the Beirut no tourist guide tells you about. Rather, the Carousel realises the Beirut skyline as itself an enclosing wall, looking down upon the life of refugees that cannot be borne to asylum or refuge. The uneven development of a globalised Beirut only offers the turn that has come over the promise that marked an Armenian to Beirut’s social and cultural life.

'Carousel City', oil on canvas, 110cm x 150cm

Still, Tom Young’s “Full Circle” is not an archive of stark realities. It stops short of crystalizing or monumentalizing despair. Paintings uncannily recall other sets of paintings through re-constellating partial objects from them. It offers a gesture of healing for a home cruelly departed. In “Big Wheel” heated-up air refigures dreamy landscapes in an over-worked Ferris wheel, at once a circularity of continuity that softens the impact of “Carousel” as it beckons an unclear future ahead. In “Tango,” the Baloumian family memories of 1960s Beiruti culture are recalled; and the grandfather of Lebanese artist Noor Haydar, Tom’s wife, had a love of tango which he brought back to Beirut from his youth in Argentina. In the original photograph, Barouir and his partner are dancing on a classic black and white square floor; Tom’s painting contrasts it with darker hues of pink that are reminiscent of his painting of his mother. To quote lines from Mulan Kumar’s “Tango” (2011):

'the tap of our feet

echo in these alleys

sweet rhythms..'

'Tango', oil on canvas, 50cm x 60cm

In “Paradisco”, a Disco Mirror Ball juts out from a grey background with radiating sparks of colour, and yet, out of place from the discotheque. Those sparks mirror the effect of the kaleidoscopic white gleaming onto Villa Paradiso’s dreamscape while shading clear of boarded up life; the sparks also redirect the energy of the life of Beirut whizzing past. Paintings of a textile floor, bearing no tread and no lived trace, open onto a floor with streaming light to evince an at times, worn look, and at times, a vivifying old world charm. Photos and a painting meet up in “The Beat Goes On (Reprise)” where a group of dancers are swaying to oud music on a pristine dance floor. It is as if no time had gone by, no boarding up had taken place. The distance between the dancers and the musician, the great-grandson of Mardiros Baloumian, Raffi Wartanian, is not however without lyrical tones as the oud is being played in the background.

'The Beat Goes On (Reprise)', oil on canvas, 140cm x 180cm

As we return full circle to a beginning, to a 1983, to a bleeding beige, a wall greets us with its enduring legacy in “Gunflowers (Variation).” At the top, a history of bullet holes and unclean surfaces at the bottom sheets of music lie next to earth’s springtime bouquet. Tom’s painting of Villa Paradiso recalls not only one of his earlier paintings, but that that earlier painting is of an icon of Beirut’s skyline which many only think they know—the Holiday Inn that was once, St. Charles City Center, a centre of cultured gathering. In one of the last signature pieces “Pilgrimage,” gothic skies meet photographed remembrance and the hope that seeps in. It might be a piece, artistically speaking, that leaves one with a trace of hope that is just starting to be realized through the restoration of Villa Paradiso. Today, we hear of the horrors throughout the Middle East. But Young’s painting captures the return of Mardiros Baloumian near to the place where he was fed and kept safe from even more Turkish genocidal nightmares. The painting is set against the back façade of a mountain church at Noravank and the composition of the people is certainly stolid but then the compression of such an emotional return to acts of human courage in the face of brutality could only be such. Young’s painting is filled with the hues of darkening and portending grey but, in an uncanny similarity to the bottom of his portrait of his mother, promise lights from below. The earth is not left defenceless against globalized decay. It springs forth with rays of joy in an otherwise bleak gothic relay.

'Pilgrimage' (painted from photograph found in Villa Paradiso, 2013), oil on canvas, 60cm x 80cm

Original portraits painted in Beirut return to the family descendants at an exhibition at Alwan for the Arts, New York City, September 2016.


[1] Harry Zohn has translated Benjamin’s essay, more correctly titled “On the Concept of History” as if it were a trace of 19th Century German philosophy recalling Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” which were nailed on the Church door in a moment of peril and religious revolution.

[2] Darwish, Mahmoud. “I am not Me.”

[3] Ehrenreich, Ben. The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, 2016, p.1