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French Version

Lebanese showcase their creativity at Beirut handicraft exhibition

Dozens of booths selling handicrafts ranging from paintings and furniture to cushions and fashion accessories make up a four-day exhibition from July 2 to July 6 known as Afkart 2008, held this year in Downtown's Saifi Village.

"The idea really started around 20 years ago in [the mountainous town of] Faqra, to promote the creative handicrafts of the village of Beit Chabeb," said Nayla Bassili, one of the event's major organizers.

"But handicrafts exhibitions such as Afkart, which now occur up to three times a year, actually kicked off in 2003," Bassili added.

"We have rules here. First, the makers must be Lebanese. Second, all crafts must be handmade. And more importantly, these exhibitions are made to display the works of people who do not have their own business or store," said Bassili.

"People pay the same price for the same tent. We give them electricity, publicity, chairs and tables, and guaranteed safety overnight," she added.

She also said that in recent years increased interest and creative talent was coming from Lebanon's second-largest city, Tripoli, known for its historical wealth and flourishing business prospects.

"For the past two years, we are having more and more creators coming from Tripoli," Bassili said.

One such creator is Zahia Chahal, whose booth, titled Sennara Corner, displayed home accessories such as footstools, cushions and bedspreads of vibrant colors and detailed patchwork. This is Chahal's third exhibition since she first participated in 2005.

"These exhibitions are made for designers of all fields trying to display their works," she said. "People don't come for any specific reason; people often come and don't buy anything at all. They just like to look around."

Sahar Bash, sponsoring a self-titled booth of handmade fashion accessories and bags, explains that recent years have also seen more competition.

"I feel that profit is better now. But it has become more difficult. Six years ago, there was no competition. Now, there is more publicity, and it yields more creators," Bash said.

Bash was right; around half the booths sold assortments of faux bijoux such as rings, necklaces, bracelets, and other accessories. "At the same time, I started with much less than I have now. The competition allowed me to expand and bring more profit," added Bash.

"We eventually hope to have creators from all over Lebanon, bringing everybody together. That is a huge part of our goal," said Bassili.

"We want to teach them how to display their value, ultimately allowing creative people in the country access to publicity, and at the same time providing an educational experience for the population," she added.

"When people come here, they are surprised and proud to see that the crafts are created and made in Lebanon, not in Italy or somewhere in Europe as many think at first," said Bassili.

She added that plans are under way to hold an exhibition in Qatar this year, after already holding two successful exhibitions in Amman, Jordan. Bassili is also looking forward to their biggest and most popular exposition, which will be held in Faraya this August.

When asked about funding, Bassili said the event was organized in cooperation with the Beirut Association for Social Development and other institutions sponsored predominantly by the Future Movement.

"Nobody is making profit here," she insisted. "It's really to encourage creativity among the people of Lebanon."

Beirut 07-07-2008
The Daily Star

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