Friday, November 16, 2012

Nadim Karam, International Visiting Artist in Memphis

by Dixy Yong
               Nadim Karam. Archaic Procession, 20 monumental steel sculptures, Beirut, Lebanon, 1997-2000.

Nadim Karam is an architect, artist, academic and author who has created large-scale projects internationally, including in Melbourne, Australia; Prague; London; Tokyo; Kwangju, Korea; and in his home city of Beirut, Lebanon. Following an invitation by the UrbanArt Commission and Memphis College of Art, Karam visited Memphis from October 25 to 27, 2012. On his itinerary were major cultural venues, such as Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, meetings with cultural and urban leaders in the City, and presentations of his philosophy and public art projects to MCA and UAC audiences.

During his stay, Karam lectured at Memphis College of Art and spoke at the dedication of the new Legacies sculpture by Vinnie Bagwell in Chickasaw Heritage Park, a City of Memphis Percent-for-Art project. Nadim Karam’s visit was sponsored in part by the UrbanArt Commission in celebration of its 15-year anniversary. Nadim Karam spoke at Memphis College of Art as part of the college’s ongoing Visiting Artist Lecture Series. A major part of Karam’s work is focused on exploring moments and dreams: he sees moments as an accumulation of vignettes from different periods of our lives, both of good times and of horror or war. For him, the temporality of these moments turns into projects.

Early public art projects followed on the heels of the long civil war in Lebanon and contributed to the rejuvenation of the city during the 1990s. Stressing the difficulty to counteract the setbacks of war, he noted that creating and rebuilding takes much more effort than to kill and destruct. Karam’s Urban Toys are a series of public sculptures placed in cities to tell stories and make people dream. His question is a basic one, expanding the concept of dreaming from the individual to a civic construct: “Can cities dream?” Thus, he provides glimpses of fantasy in urban networks and around the world.

Nadim Karam. Kagami Lake installation, Nara, Japan, 2004.
From 1982 to 1992, after receiving a scholarship, Karam pursued temple architecture studies at University of Tokyo, where he graduated with his Ph.D. in Architecture. In 2004, his deep connection with country, culture and people led to the realization of a large-scale public art project in Kagami Lake in the sacred temple city of Nara, accompanied by a ritual performance in Todaiji temple. Seven hundred anchored, unique steel sculptures and large flowers floated above the lake, doubled by their reflection on the water’s surface. Noting the 20-year timeline for this temporary installation and Karam’s knowledge of Buddhism, a glimpse of understanding the artist’s concepts of temporality and moments emerges.

Presently, together with his Atelier Hapsitus, Nadim Karam is working on his new Wheels of Chicago project that envisions the revival of Olive Park on the Lakeshore. The installation of seven, large-scale revolving wheels would introduce a site-specific narrative, with different wheels representing diversity, leisure, business, art, and nature.

Through February 3, 2013, Nadim Karam’s work can be seen in the exhibition 25 ANS DE CRÉATIVITÉ ARABE at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France. 

Further reading
Christina Lanzl. Nadim Karam: The Phoenix of Beirut, August 2012.