When we think of a contemporary art museum, we usually conjure up images of a vast cityscape and blank white walls. However, Atelier Assaf is distinctly different. The museum is located in Lebanon – not Beirut, but in the Lebanese mountains. More specifically, in the fertile valley of Al Warhaniyeh, located in Shouf Caza.
The museum is very much concerned with our ecosystem (hence its mountainous location) and the relationship between the environment and art is not only centred on our artistic output but on our relationship with the world we inhabit.
The museum is dedicated to merging itself into the local environment, namely by having recently reintroduced a variety of local trees and plants that suddenly stopped growing. This links to their programmes, which are packed full of artistic sculpturing and creating sustainable architecture that shows how the environment, and its products, are inherently creative and artistic.
The museum isn’t just for eco-worriers, the atelier offers custom guided tours in order to teach its visitors about art in its ecological environment, as well as offering a small botanical garden, sculpture park and rural house with café.
While supporting its ecological environment, the museum also supports the work of artists within the Lebanese art scene, by featuring predominantly (almost exclusively) Arab art and celebrating its past art-makers. For example, outside the museum you can see a tribute to oud legend Farid Al-Atrash, and also feminist sculptures by Rosa Orora Marble.
The work featured is largely created by those who host the space – three brothers Assaf, Mansour and Aref who are all sculptors and run the museum. Taking on the profession from their father, their family boasts a rich artistic heritage of carving stone through the generations.
Their godfather was fine artist Are Al-Rayess, whilst their uncle is the celebrated fine artist Fouad Al-Warhani, Their family work has since developed, becoming influenced by external sources such as climate change. Their work is mostly privately commissioned, but is also featured in galleries such as World of Art Gallery in Beirut and even in the Baakline National Library.
The brothers show that whilst our ecological world is drastically shifting so is the art carved in it, ensuring an ever-evolving legacy for sculpture alongside a long heritage of Arab art and craft.