Ashkal Alwan: the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts

The center for contemporary art in Beirut. 

Before it was a space, Ashkal Alwan was a concept.  A traveling contemporary art institution that appeared in spurts of artistic activity every couple of years. It was a kind of post-war festival that wanted to bring contemporary art to the public, staging highly visible events,such as the Sanayah Garden Project 1994, the Corniche Project 96, the Hamra Project 2000, and then the regular HomeWorks series (Beirut’s unofficial biennial, now in its 7th edition).  Or maybe it was a necessity, a place for public dialogue and art intervention, it rose alongside its founders and contributing artists as the central contemporary arts institution to be reckoned with in Lebanon, and an important player on the international scene.
Ashkal Alwan is now also a space - in an abandoned mattress factory that was once a Christian militia stronghold - near Souq al Ahad, and before the residential neighberhood of Sin el Fil begins. The bright and beautiful center hosts regular talks, a vast library of film, video art, and art books, unparalleled in Beirut, as well as a cafe, a video editing suite, and a sound studio. These are available to the public for use on a reservation basis.  Ashkal Alwan’s space came into being to host a school, HomeWorks Space Program, now in its fourth year, an experimental informal arts education program whose structure changes each year. The school’s programming also includes arts and educational events open to the public, and in recent years has brought to Beirut many of the top names in contemporary art and philosophy, from Hito Steryl (guest lecturer) and Kader Attia (resident professor), to Bruno Latour. Ashkal Alwan's space also hosts two live-in cats, Almaza and Anbar. 

The cafe offers freshly prepared light sandwich fare at a *very* reasonable price (sandwiches and salads range between 5,000 and 10,000), and downright cheap good coffee (espresso is 2,000LL).  A plat du jour often pops up, Syrian lunch favorites chicken and rice or stuffed kousa, (read Lebanese food, but more delicious), prepared by the resident chef Fatima, or sometimes more experimentally by one of the school's participants (only fitting for a contemporary art center). The library is open Monday-Friday 10-6, but the center itself often stays open until 10 or 11 p.m. when there is a public event, and occasionally until the morning’s wee hours when the space hosts Ashkal Alwan parties, at which there will almost inevitably be DELICIOUS Oslo Ice cream served from an in-house ice cream stand. Tasty, and artistic.

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