Identity Through Art

Interview with Jean Marc Nahas

13 JULY 2017,
Jean-Marc Nahas, 'Hannibal,' Mixed technique with ink, acrylic and black pen on wall
Jean-Marc Nahas, 'Hannibal,' Mixed technique with ink, acrylic and black pen on wall

With so many stories to share from Lebanon, this article sheds light on Lebanese artist Jean Marc Nahas talking about his inspiration, his life, the effect of the Lebanese civil war on his work, the importance of seeking one’s own identity through art, the communal suffering of people around the world and the influence of social media on modern art.

Who is Jean Marc Nahas and what would you tell about yourself that people do not know?

What people know about Jean Marc Nahas is that he was born in 1963 Beirut, Lebanon, and studied fine arts at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA), Paris. He participated in exhibitions in many countries and cities around the world such as Lebanon, France, London, Montreal, Syria, Dubai; with big collections in The British Museum, London and Bank Audi, Lebanon. However, what people do not know is that my last exhibition was ten years ago at the Beirut Exhibition Center lasting 15 days in a row, after which I have not yet presented anything new except for the Ouzai mural I have recently painted as part of the Ouzville project in Beirut, Lebanon. What people also do not know is that I have a passion for food and cooking and I am planning to open a restaurant in collaboration with my son where I will also exhibit my work.

What do you address through your art? Is it more about self-expression or you focus more on expressing a social or political cause you believe in?

What I mostly express through my art are the horrors of war and the sorrows of women and men who have suffered the atrocities of war. My paintings portray an aggressive and satiric mood against the human folly and reflect a barbaric and violent world that shows no mercy to anyone. I aim to fight for my values through my works and defend the ideas that I believe in. My art is more universal and addresses the whole world. I believe that the prevalent human condition is that we are either victims or “executioners” and that a few minority is fighting against this while the majority goes with the flow of an unjust world, one day the victim and the other the slayer. I have one painting for all the victims around the world as they share a striking resemblance. A woman who lost a child shares the same sorrows of all mothers who have suffered the same loss. Thus, my art is universal and expresses the communal pain, it criticizes our society and hopes for change as soon as possible as we may not survive if we stay on this same path. Change must start from within so we emerge with new spirits. I do not wish to give lessons to anyone and I have no message to send, I am but a time witness. I see things as they are and pretend nothing. I am desperately pessimist and can only see the losses. I hate to say this, but we are inflicting a lot of pain and it is integral that we reconsider our doings as humans.

What inspires you most? Is it people or personal experiences that bring out what you express in your art?

Humans have always inspired me. I have painted people in their different forms so I can know and study them from every angle. The ferocious, the fighter, the torturer, the criminal, the happy, the sorrowful, and the full of life, they are all my inspiration. I observe the way they change and how they are different, their strength and their weakness. As for my personal experiences, they are mostly terrible as I had lived the war with all its violence that affected my life drastically. It is because of war that I have become a painter, to flee the violence and to avoid surrendering to drugs and drinking. During that time, I was more of a victim than an “executioner”. A victim in the sense that I was a young adult who can easily be persuaded by the words, mentality and ideology of the people around him. When I reflect on my life today, I realize that I am more of an intellectual person able to choose and weigh my decisions in a more reasonable manner, which I consider a source of power in the face of the ideological brainwash imposed on us on daily basis, especially in times of war. In this sense, I consider myself to have become more of an intellectual “executioner” and a mature and influential person that cannot be easily manipulated or persuaded into a particular line of thought. This theme of victim and “executioner” in terms of intellectuality and maturity is what inspires most of my work.

What is the main message that Jean Marc aims to say as an artist?

As an artist, I would like to say to my son and to every youth to not be afraid of feeling lonely or ostracized and embrace their difference and individuality in this age of masses. Seek your own identity and always follow your hearts. Never walk in the shadow of others or imitate others. Fight the world for your ideas without ever dreading rejection. I would like for my son to learn from me but to live his own life and dreams. In terms of art, I think that the sole cause of an artist is that of his identity, his/her cause is to be true to their identity and their discourse. It is not their mission to replace or shape politics. They must simply exist through their art.

With the strong presence of social media outlets and today’s abundant channels for self-expression, do you find people still value art and the causes it conveys the same as before the influx of technology?

Artists today are productively using such platforms to spread their art and their message. I personally still have a kind of resistance towards social media and I believe that we can still influence youths and spread our message through conventional art and ancestral techniques such as drawing and painting. It is evident that the social media and new technologies are a great opportunity to learn and be inspired, to share our work and spread it beyond borders. It is undoubtedly a great tool and I am still figuring out how to use it best to enhance and promote my work. Just as the pencil, the paint, or the oil were tools during a certain epoch, it is not enough to have the tools without knowing how to use them. During the times of Picasso and Van Gogh, the same tools were available to many other people, but only few knew how to use them to make a difference and influence many generations up to this day. It is the same for social media and technology, when used productively they can serve art and spread its message to a wider audience while of course retaining its value. Technology can expand and enhance the value of art and the message it conveys. I hope that through my work I can one day establish a big school and inspire many youths. This has already been done, but I aim for a more international level.

Final note

My final words would be an urgent call for love. Unconditional and passionate love just like an inexhaustible painting striving for more life. A love that gives without waiting for anything in return, a love that keeps flowing until the last breath like that of a father to his son. I love my art just as I love my son and I admire my son just as I admire my profession as an artist.