|Jumblatts family history captured in a
Chouf mansion forms backdrop for Iraqi artists rather personal portrait
Special to The Daily Star
One time, after Noha Radi
painted a mans 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
People usually dont like their own portrait, Radi explains. So
maybe the Jumblatts will hate this.
If that happens Radi has a problem, for she hasnt 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, Kamals wife, asked Radi to draw it a year-and-a-half ago, when she saw
the artists 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 paintings 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 didnt know what this red,
white, red flag meant when I painted it, says Radi. Just yesterday someone
told me, its the flag Kamal Jumblatt intended to have as the national flag.
Radis favorite part of the painting is just above the PSP demonstration. Here Druze
sheikhs walk down the castles stairs with Walid among them, seemingly in discussion.
In his blue jeans and bomber jacket, hes a little spot of color among the religious
leaders black robes and white hats.
Its the clash between tradition and modernity that comes out well here,
Many little details can be found in the painting. May Jumblatt, Walids 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, Walids
present wife, wanders alone along one of the watercourses leading through the
mansions courts. Gervette, his second wife and mother of his children, observes the
demonstration from one of the windows.
Well, its a mans 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, Kamals 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,
Kamals 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 didnt 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.
Its 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
I took pictures, looked at photographs, but I didnt 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 didnt work out that way. Now the trees serve as that.