Lebanon is home to millions of Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, and others. It encompasses around eighteen religious sects all of whom live amongst each other, sharing cultures and beliefs. The origin of each religious sect is a topic of its own, but to keep it short, Lebanon is an intersecting hub. It was a country that welcomed and was occupied by many civilizations in the past. It is with good reason why Lebanon or its people cannot be defined simply, and in that we see beauty, harmony, sharing of our humanity, yet living with each other’s differences. In this following photo essay, we feature Islamic art, and specifically copper art.
We present here the story of Abou Ghaleb, a Lebanese artist who was once a jeweler. He was approached by a friend with a proposition to start a business using copper. Abou Ghaleb was intrigued by the idea and decided to add a special twist to it, and thus began the very first copper art business in Lebanon. Abou Ghaleb started doing copper art pieces and began selling them in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. His work caught the eye of many: “People from America, Europe, Australia would come asking for Abou Ghaleb’s work”, says his son Ghaleb Ghaleb. He continues saying that “People from Saudi Arabia would come asking for a copper art piece of ‘Ayatul Kursi’ [the Throne Verse], and just like that we would have multiple pieces pre-ordered, and the work would not stop!”.
"A lot of people tried to copy what we do. No one was successful".
After the death of Abou Ghaleb, his son, Ghaleb Ghaleb, a veteran, inherited his passion, learned the skill, and took on his business. Today, Ghaleb continues to create copper art, and Islamic art embellishments. “It is my amusement. If I don’t do anything, I get sleepy. I have a need to keep working. Not because I am retired that I should sit and do nothing”, he says when identifying with his father and his need to keep working and creating even while he was sick.
Ghaleb Ghaleb's Copper Art, in His Own Words
“This is my mother and father. When she died first, we did her portrait, and then we did my father’s. In the middle is a prayer, a verse from the Quran. My uncle was the one that first drew the portraits by hand, he is an art professor, and then I took them and carved them on copper.”
“This is made of ivory. When my father was sick, he would experiment with it, dabbling with it. Likewise, when I find copper wires, I start creating anything”.
Islamic Art in Copper Art
“This piece here. Since 2004, I’d been carving it. I ended up finishing it three years after my retirement. If you look at it, you see patterned engraves. This is ‘Allah’s most Beautiful names’ (Asmaa Allah al Hasina), ninety-nine names… Other than it being ‘Allah’s most Beautiful names’, it is also a masterpiece that you can hang as interior design in a Mosque, a home entrance, a restaurant...”.
“This art is part of Islamic art and I enjoy this type of work”.
“This is the Throne Verse ‘Ayatul Kursi’. This also is my work. The Islamic embellishment here is purely my design. The prayer was an image that already existed and I carved it in copper”.
Ghaleb’s sister: “After he finishes it and we glue it, we spend around two days locating and placing the punctuations in their designated place”.
"The cultural significance of this type of art is language and calligraphy. In the Islamic culture, it was forbidden to put images of animals and humans in the house. The 'real' and original artists would draw calligraphy. Calligraphy and Islamic embellishments".
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Christian Copper Art
“Christians and Muslims, we always used to live in harmony. During the war, my father had this piece put at the entrance. We would joke, that if the invaders ever came, they would see the piece of the Last Supper and a piece of the Throne Verse ‘Ayatul Kursi’, and wouldn’t know which sect we belonged to”.
Read: More content on the merriment of cultural pieces and religion in "Persian Architecture's Majestic Traditions".
Tripoli: Christians and Muslims Shared Cultures Through Copper Art
“Sometimes we like to work on pieces that challenge us. Like this one. This is the ‘Msharabiyeh’. In old times, women in Islamic houses wouldn’t come out in public to see the people, rather they would peep through this window to see, and no one would be able to see them through it”.
“... Even, you know, here [in Tripoli], we have Islamic norms. Christians and Muslims would abide by these norms because this is how it is here. They all know it and respect it, and it still. applies a little bit today”.
Experimenting Beyond Conventional Copper Art
“This is a jewelry box. The design is all me but the carpeting is all the work of my sister. She is a very talented seamstress. This too is a challenge. It’s not part of our profession but why not do it, and it works out!”.
“Each design has its own carving and sewing methods. Each has a unique and specialized technique”.
“My son got married a while back. I made this for him and his bride. It is gold-plated. This work, however, is a more evolved [modernized] version of what we do. Our original work is of folklore. This is an example of how a plaque of copper can be transformed into an art piece”.
“Some Lebanese are still interested in these artifacts. Especially the Lebanese Diaspora visiting. They get nostalgic for their country”.
"This is part of our original work. Folklore!".
"I love arts. I entered a school of art before enrolling in military school. My family has a great passion for the arts. Before applying to the art school I approached my uncle thriving to learn how to draw, usually, if you do not have a 'base' in the arts, you couldn't apply. Within three days I was able to draw. This profession needs talent and patience. A person that lacks both cannot handle the pressure of sitting for six hours working on one piece. It is Art and it needs talent".
Read More: Explore the work of another Lebanese artisan in "The smallest cross stitch in a masterpiece of cross stitch pattern".
What is Ghaleb Up-to Today?
"Right now, there isn't much work. These pieces are considered luxuries. But I like to participate in expositions because I like to encourage the artists and arts. Because it is a necessity to have this kind of movement in Tripoli. If we hide, it will die alone. There always needs to be this kind of movement. In Tripoli, we are known for this type of Art."
Ghaleb's constant dabbling while sitting at home led him to create handmade copper jewelry. If you're, by any chance, in the country, visit Ghaleb's workshop in Tripoli. You can also find their accessories page on INSTAGRAM: "Bespoke by Wafa".
Watch: To know more about the procedure of creating copper art, watch "How is Copper Art Created? First-hand Insight from a Lebanese Artisan" on our sister channel.