Recognising and championing 17 individuals who have contributed to their respective art scenes, 2018 marks the first year Montblanc has held an award ceremony in Lebanon. Hosted by Frank Juhel, President of Montblanc Middle East, India and Africa, along with Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Chairmen of Montblanc Cultural Foundation, they welcomed key figures on the Lebanese art scene to Ashkal Alwan to award Philippe and Zaza Jabre for their cultural efforts.
Giving thanks to Montblanc upon receiving the award, Zaza Jabre shared, “We strongly believe that culture and the arts are vital in shaping how we perceive and understand the world, and is a major role in society. We need it to be a witness of our history, to show beauty, to share sensitivity and emotions, to question our society, to touch every and each of us with its messages, and to give us hope.” Speaking of their home country specifically, the Jabres shared what drives their efforts within their foundation, and their support of social and culturally oriented projects. “There is so much talent, imagination, sensitivity and creativity in Lebanon,” she said. “Unfortunately though, not enough encouragement in the current conditions, that’s why Philippe and I have worked for the last 30 years on supporting education, health and many institutions focusing on the improvement of the daily life in our society.”
The ceremony took place at Ashkal Alwan, a non-profit organisation which holds special significance for the Jabres as well as Montblanc. “The choice of the venue couldn’t be better – Ashkal Alwan is a very special institution which is close to our hearts,” said Jabre. “Since the 90s it has fully committed itself to supporting artistic production, education and civic engagement.” Echoed by Fellrath and Bardaouil, they noted that Ashkal Alwan was chosen, as all of their award venues, for its dedication to the arts and making an impact on the community in which it exists. “It’s a leading space in creating a platform for an art community to evolve and thrive in Lebanon and the region,” shared Bardaouil. “It has benefited a lot from the patronage of Philppe and Zaza Jabre, and it really is the place to go when you want to come explore the arts community in Beirut. It was the perfect match for what we were trying to do, who the winners are, and what this space symbolises for the city of Beirut.”
Of the many cultural projects to do with Lebanon, “If you scratch the surface, somehow they were involved!” quips Bardaouil. While the Jabre’s have supported Ashkal Alwan – to which it was instrumental in founding – and the neighbouring Beirut Art Center, a key space for exhibitions, conferences, and promoting younger and international artists, they also endowed a fulltime Art History professorship at the American University of Beirut. “The faculty had been closed for many years and only reopened six or seven years ago after the war and started coming back to life,” said Bardaouil. “The fact the Jabres were visionary enough to say ‘Ok, we will dedicate resources to allow for a professor to come and teach here’ is extremely important and visionary.” They also supported the Lebanese National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the Tate’s most recent exhibition of Mona Hatoum, and the Modern Art in the Arab World edition of MoMA’s Primary Documents publication series, among others.
All 17 of this year’s awardees were nominated by Montblanc’s global network of nominators, this year inclusive of 50 individuals well versed in their respective art scenes. “We had our meeting in December last year with the newly established Curatorium, which consists of Jochen Volz, director of Pinacoteca de São Paulo; Kim Sun-jung, director of Gwangju Biennale in South Korea; Franklin Sirmans, director of Perez Art Museum in Miami; Jean de Loisy, president of Palais de Tokyo in Paris; and Anne Barlow, artistic director of Tate St Ives,” said Fellrath. “For the Middle East we had a lot of great suggestions, we really have so many wonderful patrons. We met and went through all the nominations and figured out which would be the best projects to award, and it was an unanimous decision.” Selected for their impact, longevity and seriousness, Bardaouil added that though they wish they could celebrate everyone, that by celebrating the Jabres, “We’re celebrating the whole community. We want to give the message of, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, there are a lot of you, and we need more people like you!’”
Long-term commitment and support of the arts in the community with impact and lasting change is key to the award’s remit. “If you look at the number of years the Jabres have been the ‘go-to’ people in this community, the many institutions and artists and projects supported in Lebanon and the Arab world, they’ve really dedicated so much time,” remarked Bardaouil. “They do it in such a discreet, giving way. It’s not about them being the spotlight. They are truly exemplary of the spirit of patronage that we want to recognise and celebrate. They really stood out for us as great patrons to award for these reasons.” Fellrath elaborated, adding, “They are people who genuinely feel a certain responsibility to give back to the community.” Observing that few people in positions of privilege come with this sense of duty and obligation, “it’s something we want to recognise,” said Fellrath. “It’s very important to empower future generations of creative thinkers and people who are needful, whatever that might be. And the Jabres are setting a great example of that. We’re hoping that other people will see them as a role model, and maybe start their own organisations, or give back to the community, or even support the organisations that they’re supporting.” Bardaouil underlines the key points of the Jabre’s longstanding cultural contributions: “Their foundation also works with human causes, which complements what they do in a beautiful and humane way,” he shared. “It’s about long term investment in people and education.”