Tucked away in the village of Daroun in the mountains of Lebanon is a recently completed atelier which serves as a safe haven for its designer, Nadim Karam. A multidisciplinary Lebanese artist, painter, sculptor and architect, Karam designed A.MUSE.UM in collaboration with Beirut-based Atelier Hapsitus – which he founded – as a space for the artist to reflect, create and experiment. It has only been a year since the construction has been completed, and the space, as the artist describes, “is a cocoon where I immerse myself, where I’m detached from the rest of the world like a contemporary hermit.”
An exterior view of Nadim Karam's family residence above A.MUSE.UM
Nestled in the mountains above the studio is the artist’s own family residence, a 120 year-old red-roofed traditional Lebanese stone house which was built by one of Karam’s ancestors. “The house is a place we feel connected to and try to spend as much time there as we can during summer and winter breaks,” smiles Karam. “The only thing I was missing was a place to work, hence the idea to develop the Muse project on the land below the house.” Moving in between the two spaces is an activity he dearly cherishes.
A.MUSE.UM by Nadim Karam
“The journey from the traditional house to the contemporary Muse is tailored to my being,” he shares. “I feel the dream when I move in those spaces - it is the source of so many new ideas and projects that I am in the process of developing. The Muse is a new departure for me.”
Since Karam was five years old, he was immersed in the world of art. “I remember creating a painting with three swans on a green background,” he recalls.
“And since then, I have searched for it without success, but it has remained imprinted in my mind.” Karam decided to study architecture and undertook his post-graduate education in Japan. “I could not practise as an architect, but I had the freedom to experiment in all creative fields, beginning with performance art,” he shares. “In the early 1990s, I went back to Lebanon and founded Atelier Hapsitus, with the idea of creating a melting pot for different creative domains.”
Nadim Karam in his studio
A.MUSE.UM pays homage to the traditional Lebanese stone aesthetic with modern touches,serving to create a dialogue between art, architecture, landscape, thought processes and contexts of creation. It is here where Karam comes to forget the world and be completely immersed in creativity. “It gives me the luxury of a state of being which I cannot afford when I work on international projects from my Beirut office,” he says.
The architecture of the space has been inspired by the rhizome theory, with no specific entrance or exit points, intertwining the space within the surrounding nature. “The idea was to make the architecture disappear completely into the landscape, revealing only minimal features from afar and give the stage to the family home, an ancestral stone house on the hillside above it.”
Nadim Karam's Beirut studio
Recently A.MUSE.UM was home to SHORTHAND: Nadim Karam, Notes from the Archive, spanning Karam’s never-before-seen works on paper, paintings, screenings of two early performances which Karam created in the late 1980s in Japan and four decades of sketchbooks. Curated by Rachel Dedman, the exhibition provided an intimate insight into his work from his formative years in Japan where he worked at the intersection of performative and architectural, to the themes that have influenced his work ever since.
“Japan was a wonderful and unique experience, which I carry with me and which has been imbued in most of my work, which is probably why it is a substantial part of the exhibition,” he shares. “For me, these works are traces and a testimony of a journey that I am still on.” As the video installation entitled Celebration of Life; the Funeral (1987) unfolded during the exhibition, a 20 metre-long painting was unveiled, representing themes of rebirth and emancipation. The second video installation reflected on the war in Lebanon as well as archaism versus technology in art.
Nadim Karam at his Beirut Studio with his works
“The exhibition of my archived work uncovered the humanistic and emotional themes and concepts linked to dreams, moments and thoughts which are not usually seen by the public, but which are at the origins of all of my work.” The inaugural exhibition at the space entitled Traces of a Rhizomatic Dream, was held in 2018 when A.MUSE.UM was not yet complete.
The exhibition showcased a series of nine works depicting the relationship between the atelier and the family house above it. Paying homage to traditional mountain landscapes, when the construction was complete, the artist collected olive trees from the site and replanted them on the terraces of the space, along with a pomegranate tree. He also planted a mixture of citrus, fig, avocado and jujube trees; a testament to the effort he has contributed into making the space a second home. The atelier has become a space for discovery and creative energy, a space built by and for Karam.
“The Muse is one of the milestones, while being a spatial representation of a journey in itself,” he says. “We are all revolutionary, although fragile, and artists of our own destiny.” nadimkaram.com
Images courtesy of Nadim Karam
From the Winter 2019 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Art