“The Roundabout:” a portrait of Beirut, Lebanon, by Vanessa Gemayel

December 29th, 2010

A young Lebanese artist describes how she created her painting, “The Roundabout.”

“Les Rois Mages,” by Vanessa Gemayel, depicts Beirut’s Central District.

Vanessa Gemayel: background

Vanessa Gemayel is a young Lebanese artist living in Beirut.  She combines a vibrant, gorgeous visual style with thoughtful political and social commentary about the middle eastern city where she’s spent much of her life.  (Vanessa was born in Paris and lived there before moving with her family to Liberia.  The family had to flee Liberia when war broke out; they then lived in the US for a number of years before returning to their homeland, Lebanon, after its civil war ended.)

One of Vanessa’s recurrent themes is the destruction of the beautiful traditional architecture that gave Beirut its unique atmosphere.  The old buildings are being replaced by generic modern buildings that could be anywhere in the world.

Another of her themes is the harmful impact on life in Lebanon of moneyed interests and social pressures for status and glamour.  She often uses words – written into her paintings or simply as their titles – to great satirical effect.

Vanessa earned a postgraduate diploma from Chelsea College of Art in London.  She has exhibited in Paris at the Centre Vendome pour les Arts Plastiques, and in Beirut.  Her “Les Rois Mages” (The Three Magi, above) was selected for the Sursock Museum’s Salon D’Automne exhibition in 2009.  Another of her paintings, “Rue à caractère traditionnel,” was shown in the 2010 International Art Exhibition: Lebanese Diaspora, at the Dome City Center in Beirut.

Vanessa writes so well about her work that I have little to do myself beyond formatting her text and photos of The Roundabout in process.  (A roundabout is what we in the US often call a traffic circle.)

You can see more of Vanessa’s paintings at the end of this post.

Vanessa’s description of how she created “The Roundabout”

“I started this painting with the idea of depicting a roundabout. A friend remarked at the time that it illustrated very well the feeling of going around in circles that had been overwhelming me.

First stage of work on “The Roundabout,” by Vanessa Gemayel

“I drew the outlines of the roundabout and the roads (which I painted in black) then began work, in a circular way, on the buildings (using acrylic and oil). I left no spaces between them because I wanted to portray the city as I was seeing it at the time: crammed and devoid of life and nature.

“The painting was almost done except for the most important parts that I had left for last. I got the idea of using newspapers for the roads because I wanted to incorporate socio-political elements, as well as highlight certain aspects regarding urbanization and development.

Second stage – creating “The Roundabout” by Vanessa Gemayel

“L’Orient Le Jour is a French newspaper that targets the intellectual French speaking community in Lebanon. Ironically, many people buy this newspaper just to read the section regarding classified ads, which mainly reports births, deaths and other socio-religious proceedings.

“I used the headlines of this section as themes for each of the roads, which I thought would be well suited to portray the importance of social obligations and social political correctness in this country.

Detail from “The Roundabout,” by Vanessa Gemayel

“Each road is made up of ads taken from different newspapers; all are mostly in French and English.  Only one road is made of political clippings entirely in Arabic, mainly highlighting names of the politicians who have been in power since the civil war (i.e. for the past 40 years!). This road is the one going straight downwards in the lower left-hand side. The headline from l’Orient I used is “Requiem” in reference to these politicians who keep the country from moving forward and to a language that is losing prevalence to French and English.

Detail from “The Roundabout,” by Vanessa Gemayel.

“The road in the lower right-hand corner, ‘Condolences’, is made up of ads relating to job employment; in view of all the people who are working with a minimum wage insufficient to cover living expenses, or who work (as I so often have) with the promise of a paycheck that never comes.

”Pensées Pieuses’ (Pious Thoughts) designates the road in the upper left-hand corner and is made up of miscellaneous ads such as the sale of nice telephone numbers for thousands of dollars, weather forecasts, civil wedding packages to Cyprus, the sale of high-end cars, designer wedding dresses etc.

“The road in the middle of the left-hand side, entitled ‘Nécrologie’ (Obituary) consists of ads concerning the rent and sale of apartments, buildings and properties. I used this title in reference to the wide scale constructions that are taking place in Beirut. The lack of ethicality, aesthetics, and concern for national patrimony has simply made this process of development synonymous with destruction, careless profit making, and loss of identity.

“Finally, the last road, going upwards, ‘Naissance’ (Birth) is meant to act as an element of hope. (For ethical reasons, I had to conceal the first and last names of the parents as well as dates, and only kept the first name of the child and place of birth).

Detail from “The Roundabout,” by Vanessa Gemayel.

“The road surrounding the roundabout is made up of pictures of people taken from “people” magazines, which are very popular in hairdresser and cosmetology salons. The pictures include local celebrities, political and religious figures and normal people who have hired photographers from the magazine to publicize their birthday, dinner, lunch or whatever occasion fitting (or not), to raise public awareness of themselves, their surroundings and the people that are part of their circle. I then covered most of the pictures with lines and imprisoned them in the road.

‘Most green areas in Beirut are courtesy of some company or another. In this respect, nature is only a ploy to enhance the effect of the ad. For the center of the billboard, I used an ad I found on the cover of one of the magazines mentioned above. It’s a little square portraying the petals of a velvety red flower on which it is written ‘Vous connaitrez tout sur l’orgasme’ (You will find out all there is to know about orgasms).

”The initial title I wanted to use for this painting was ‘Le Bordel’, which, roughly translated, means ‘brothel’ but is commonly used in French to signify “mess.”  However I was told it could be a tad bit provocative and decided to stick to Roundabout.”

“The Roundabout,” by Vanessa Gemayel, completed.

More of Vanessa’s paintings

“View from My Room,” by Vanessa Gemayel

Vanessa’s paintings of Beirut are both highly personal and political.  Her “View from the Kitchen” and “View from My Room”  (left) portray what Vanessa sees outside her apartment windows.  I love the sense of personal engagement with the socio-political life of the city that, for example, her view from her bedroom window provides.

The foreground of this painting includes  a crammed jumble of  apartment buildings, only a few of which have traditional Lebanese arched windows  or tile roofs.  While the building shapes are Western, the feel of the city is still vibrant.  Beyond the peninsula on which Beirut is located, we see the Mediterranean.  And beyond that, plain, boxy, multi-storey apartment buildings march up the steep mountainsides, with no regard to either the spectacular landscape or middle-eastern architectural history.  In fact, this type of nondescript construction now covers the rugged, exquisitely beautiful Lebanese mountains all over the country.  The Arabic writing on Vanessa’s window curtain in the painting reads: “‘The sea and the sky are still left for you to build on.”

Because the Lebanese mountains rise so steeply out of the Mediterranean – to 10,000 feet only a few miles inland – almost all its roads are full of hairpin turns.  We can see these roads snaking crazily among multi-storey  buildings in the background of “Beirut?,” another of Vanessa’s paintings (below).

In “Beirut?” and in Vanessa’s art in general, she asks whether this is Beirut or some other random city anywhere in the world, since its architecture so closely resembles that which in the last half century has metastasized across the planet.

“Beirut?” by Vanessa Gemayel

A last painting, “Jbeil” (below), shows another element of Vanessa’s work which I love: roads which take us on mysterious journeys.  Jbeil  is a small, ancient coastal city north of Beirut.  Here, under a crescent moon and palm trees, among low, traditional arch-windowed buildings, life feels relaxed and happy, with the promise of a bit of adventure if we follow the winding road up into the mountains when tomorrow dawns.

Another more recent version of Jbeil is here.

“Jbeil,” by Vanessa Gemayel

413 Responses to ““The Roundabout:” a portrait of Beirut, Lebanon, by Vanessa Gemayel”

  1. vyvodaaabbbd says:


    Вывод с запоя – медикаментозная процедура каковая проводится яко на дому так да в течение стационаре, эффект которой наставлено на так, чтоб свести к минимуму …

  2. Rubenchupt says:

    https://datingonlinehot.com/# free web date site

  3. vyvodaaabbba says:


    Наркологическая экспресс-клиника Москва очутит анонимную наркологическую помощь клиентам середины постоянной наркологии на Москве. Хостинг-услуги исцеления наркомании, …

  4. your friends in real life, ask advantages over the other and

  5. betxpt says:

    [url=https://1xbet-download-pt.com]1xbet app[/url]

    The stroke at the 1xbet bookmaker is undivided of the most sweeping middle all bookmakers.

  6. Brianslodo says:

    [url=https://1xbet-download-pt.com]1xbet-download-pt com[/url]

    Ditty of the popular bookmakers is 1xbet: it has been operating championing more than 20 years in many countries of the sphere, including Russia.

  7. Edwardref says:

    https://datingonlinehot.com/# best free dating site
    [url=https://datingonlinehot.com/#]videodating[/url] good dating websites

  8. Brianslodo says:

    [url=https://1xbet-download-pt.com]app 1xbet[/url]

    Undivided of the standard bookmakers is 1xbet: it has been operating representing more than 20 years in many countries of the midwife precisely, including Russia.

  9. Homybe says:

    suhagra 100mg without prescription buy sildenafil 50mg for sale estradiol pill

  10. I really like what you guys are usually up too.This sort of clever work and exposure! Keep up the terrificworks guys I’ve included you guys to my personal blogroll.

  11. Marcoprarf says:

    [url=https://1xbet-download-fr.com]1xbet app login[/url]

    The 1xbet company clear not to obtain a license from the Russian regulator, so it automatically found itself outlawed.
    1xbet app

  12. Sibyl Pearson says:

    luke perry películas y programas de televisión

  13. [url=https://lest-master.ru/]Лестницы на металлическом каркасе[/url]

    Металлические лестницы, хоть бы, с нержавеющей начали, очень легко кормить в чистоте – для чистки внешных поверхностей хоть утилизировать щебнеочиститель высокого давления, а чтобы внутренних достаточно влажной тряпки.
    Лестницы на металлическом каркасе

  14. It’s actually a great and useful piece of information. I’m glad that you just shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Goqbqy says:

    lamotrigine 200mg without prescription tretinoin cream oral tretinoin brand

  16. Edwardref says:

    https://datingonlinehot.com/# adlt dating
    [url=https://datingonlinehot.com/#]new online dating sites[/url] dating singles

  17. Eubd says:

    I read this paragraph completely concerning the difference of latest and previous technologies, it’sremarkable article.

  18. I really like and appreciate your article post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.

  19. On this site u can buy [url=https://killapods.eu/camel-snus/]CAMEL SNUS[/url] for very good price!

  20. Your style is so unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this blog.

  21. Great, thanks for sharing this blog post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  22. click says:

    Really informative article post.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

  23. Major thanks for the article. Cool.

  24. I think this is a real great post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

  25. Kontakt says:

    This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am in factpleassant to read all at alone place.

  26. [url=https://abi-dent.ru/]Стоматологическая Клиника[/url]

    НА свойскою труду наш брат применяем только самые теперешние технологические процессы, первоклассные мануфактуры равным образом лучшее оборудование через изготовителей из мировым именем.
    Стоматологическая Клиника

  27. [url=https://zamki-178-vskrytie-avtomobilej.ru/]Вскрытие авто[/url]

    Разве что для вас нужна шефство в течение срочном открытии автомобиля, позвоните на Дворцовую скорую шефство, что ишачит в Варшаве и ее округах, предоставляя хостинг-услуги слесаря ??всю недельку также круглый год.
    Вскрытие авто

  28. mnsu d2l says:

    Thank you for your blog.Really thank you! Awesome.

  29. Good way of telling, and fastidious article to get dataon the topic of my presentation focus, which i am going to present in college.

  30. Clevo NH70 says:

    This is one awesome blog article.Really thank you! Great.

  31. Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

  32. Stqicp says:

    tadalafil for sale tadalafil pill diclofenac 50mg uk

  33. Jamestooto says:

    https://cheapestedpills.com/# new ed pills
    [url=https://cheapestedpills.shop/#]ed pills gnc[/url] cheapest ed pills online

  34. faliats says:

    can you buy priligy online The Phase 1 trials are the first stage of testing in human subjects designed to assess safety, side effects, best dosage, and formulation method for the drug

  35. Has anyone ever been to Saguenay Vape Vapor Store located in 712 N Main St Suite A?

  36. number. You are running into but with the PlayStation 4,

  37. A big thank you for your blog post. Want more.

  38. I truly appreciate this post.Much thanks again. Cool.

  39. cmd368 says:

    I really enjoy the post.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

  40. Vfubnt says:

    accutane uk zithromax drug zithromax 500mg ca