Lebanese American University


Urban inspiration

LAU alumnus Vartan Avakian wins the Abraaj Capital Art Prize.

ShortWave/LongWave: Video 2010. Installation View in Tokyo Wonder Site, courtesy of the artist.

The Time of Heroes: Installation 2007. Installation Views, Meeting Points 5, courtesy of the artist.

The Revenge of Geography: Installation 2011. Installation View Detail, Sharjah Biennial X, courtesy of the artist and Sharjah Art Foundation.

Click on any photo above to see all three images.

Byblos-born multidisciplinary artist and LAU alumnus Vartan Avakian was recently announced as one of the five winners of the fifth edition of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize (ACAP), an art prize aimed at artists from the Middle-East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA).

Founded in 2008, ACAP uniquely rewards artists for their sheer proposals for brand new artworks, rather than completed works of art. Winners then go on to work collectively with a single international curator to produce these artworks, which will be unveiled in March of the following year at Art Dubai, the leading international art fair in the MENASA region.

Avakian was granted a sum of $100,000 to bring his proposal to fruition: an installation that builds on his previous work on urbanity and patriarchy.

“ACAP has given me the chance to produce one of my bigger installations,” says Avakian. “This is a great opportunity for me to complete one of the projects that I never thought I would be able to achieve.”

The winners’ artworks, which cannot be disclosed until their unveiling at the Art Dubai fair in March, will subsequently become permanent additions to the Abraaj Capital Art Collection.

A communication arts graduate with an emphasis in both film and theater, Avakian’s zeal for building installations dates back to his years as a student at LAU, where he worked on designing sets for various student productions. He later went on to study architecture and urban culture at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, Spain.

Avakian’s interests go beyond installation design, however. His multidisciplinary approach also draws on video and photography, with urbanity and consumer culture being the common theme and denominator across all three media. In particular, the political formation of cities and identities has become a focal point in Avakian’s creations.

In fact, Avakian’s work examines the urban environment as a social construct, investigating its flaws and weaknesses, and concentrating on aspects of performativity - the construction of identity or position through active expression - in the construction of public space and the creation of public figures.

In Avakian’s work, ambiguity and humor act as means of deconstruction of dominant perceptions, demonstrating the “cultural malaise of a generation in perpetual transition.”

“It is in this constantly changing fabric of cities that I find the source material for my practice, especially in the formation of various senior figures - father, leader, hero - and how they manifest themselves in the construction of monuments and public imagery,” explains Avakian.


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