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Lebanonwire, November 30, 2002

The Daily Star

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Jumblatts’ family history captured in a painting
Chouf mansion forms backdrop for Iraqi artist’s rather personal portrait 

Hannah Wettig
Special to The Daily Star

One time, after Noha Radi painted a man’s portrait, he hung it in the most remote corner of his house. When the Iraqi artist visited several months later, she was told that the man had given it to his grandmother.
“People usually don’t like their own portrait,” Radi explains. “So maybe the Jumblatts will hate this.”
If that happens Radi has a problem, for she hasn’t only painted a portrait of one Jumblatt, but many of several family members. Walid, Kamal, May, Fouad, Nora, Linda, Sitt Nazira and others all feature in one picture.
One three-by-two-meter painting tells the story of the Jumblatts’ castle in Mukhtara. May Jumblatt, Kamal’s wife, asked Radi to draw it a year-and-a-half ago, when she saw the artist’s painting of the Greek island of Monemvasia.
Historical and contemporary figures and events stand next to each other on the oil-on-canvas work, which will be hung in the castle.
In the painting’s center, Progressive Socialist Party followers are waving party flags as well as the multi-colored Druze flag. In between, one can spot some Lebanese flags, but lacking the cedar. Walid Jumblatt is approaching the party members in a white suit, greeting them by lifting his right hand.
“I saw these different flags on a photograph, but I didn’t know what this red, white, red flag meant when I painted it,” says Radi. “Just yesterday someone told me, it’s the flag Kamal Jumblatt intended to have as the national flag.”
Radi’s favorite part of the painting is just above the PSP demonstration. Here Druze sheikhs walk down the castle’s stairs with Walid among them, seemingly in discussion. In his blue jeans and bomber jacket, he’s a little spot of color among the religious leaders’ black robes and white hats.
“It’s the clash between tradition and modernity that comes out well here,” says Rida.
Many little details can be found in the painting. May Jumblatt, Walid’s mother, watches the scenes in the center from a distance, one time from her balcony, the other time from behind a hedge, the tiny pinscher next to her being her dog, as Radi presumes: “I always saw him (the dog) around her,” she says.
Two other women appear rather remote, almost lonely, in the painting. Nora, Walid’s present wife, wanders alone along one of the watercourses leading through the mansion’s courts. Gervette, his second wife and mother of his children, observes the demonstration from one of the windows.
“Well, it’s a man’s world,” Radi says, explaining why these women are remote. “But I tried hard to include many women.”
Radi looked through the boxes of photographs she received from May Jumblatt and found that Kamal had a sister, Linda. She is portrayed in black and white on the right hand side next to another Jumblatt woman: Sitt Nazira, Kamal’s mother. The two are among 11 pictures not part of the greater scene at Mukhtara Castle, but painted on the edges of the painting, as if they were photographs stuck onto it.
Radi copied a graphic of the landscape from the 18th century, a photo of Fouad Jumblatt, Kamal’s father, on a horse and another one of Fouad in some fancy hunting gowns.
“He was always such a snazzy dresser,” said Radi.
Sitt Nazira can be seen a second time with a traditional headscarf. Kamal Jumblatt is among those as well.
“This is a copy of a painting,” said Radi. “I didn’t like the photos of him that much.”
A photo of the PSP founder is more hidden. Some of the demonstrators hold it up.
Many details are only discovered on second sight.
“It’s like a Persian miniature or a renaissance painting,” explained Radi. But this matches the place: “The castle itself is like a maze.”
Radi went up many times to the Chouf to study her subject, the first time in July last year.
“I took pictures, looked at photographs, but I didn’t start painting until later, in May. It had to grow in my eyes first.”
The Iraqi artist, who grew up in India and studied art in Britain, said she learned the Jumblatts’ family history while working on the painting.
“In the beginning I only knew that I wanted to have the Chouf landscape on the top. Then I had thought of using the many fountains and watercourses as separations between the scenes, but it didn’t work out that way. Now the trees serve as that.”

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