On this episode of the Gallery Girl podcast I am joined by Saria Sakka, a Lebanese art professional who seeks to preserve, promote and celebrate Lebanese and Levantine arts and crafts. She is the curator of an auction that has just gone live with Auc.Art called Beirut Never Dies and is also the founder of The Good Shop.
Saria says that she “fell into” a career in art. “My mum always encouraged me to dress differently to everyone else and to paint, I was always very visually inclined”, she says, “Until I had to make choices about jobs, I was always painting, creating and making.” She went on to study Art History at university, but she found that she didn’t enjoy it as much as she was expecting, and had thoughts about going into set design. Having grown up in London and studied in the US, she then moved to Hong Kong with one suitcase in 2018. The only way to stay was by finding a job, which she found at Simon Lee Gallery’s Hong Kong space. She ended up really loving it and she was on her path to a career working with art.
Following the protests in Hong Kong in the summer of 2019, Saria was offered a position at the gallery’s London space, and she returned to the UK. “There’s a lot more room to experiment with different things in London”, says Saria, “There are many more facets to the art industry here. So many artists call London home.”
Being Lebanese, Saria grew up visiting Beirut once or twice a year. “I became aware of an art scene and a creative community when I was in my late teens. It took me a while to tap into that”, says Saria, “For the longest time I associated Beirut with spending time with family. My mum didn’t grow up in Lebanon, so she has a different relationship with the place than my dad. She always spent her time discovering cultural things and as I got older she would take me with her. We’d visit jewellery and furniture studios, and go to different galleries. I realised that when they do things in Lebanon creatively, they are really very good at it and that they have an amazing relationship to colour, texture and touch.”
In August Beirut suffered a horrific explosion that stunned the globe. In response, Saria has been working on projects directly benefiting the Lebanese art community and those affected by the blast. “When the explosion happened, I was sort of at a point in my job where I was beginning to reconsider what I want to do”, says Saria, “I realised in the middle of the first lockdown that I really want to work with young artists.” During the moment when the world stood still, it was a lot more accessible to see what young creatives were doing, especially through platforms like Instagram. “I thought I don’t know if I really want to work with established or mid-career artists because I’m so young and I want to grow with the people that I’m working with”, says Saria, “I want to work with artists who are still at school or who have recently left school and are considered emerging.” After the explosion Saria was looking at all of her clothes and realised she could sell them and ask others to donate and send all the proceeds to a charity or organisation. “I wanted to give it to a fund that was helping artists, so I ended up partnering with AFAC (Arab Fund For Art and Culture)”, explains Saria, “They started a Lebanese Solidarity Fund to provide relief to artists who lost equipment or homes or studios. This explosion primarily affected the neighbourhoods where artists have their studios and I was concerned that they would leave, and if the creativity and the talent leaves, what’s left? They bring so much of the spirit of warmth to Beirut.” And thus, the Good Shop was born. After speaking to different friends and artists, the Good Shop moved from just being clothes to incorporating food and other pieces of design wear.
After launching the Good Shop, a friend introduced Saria to Natasha Arselan of Auc.Art who suggested curating a sale for the platform. The resulting sale Beirut Ma Betmout/Beirut Never Dies is live now and proceeds will be donated to Impact Lebanon. Saria found her artists through contacts in Lebanon, Instagram searches and even the Saatchi Gallery’s recent graduation show. And of the Lebanese artists we should have on our radars, Saria cites Christine Safa and Dala Nasser as ones to watch.
So what’s next for Saria? “I loved doing the Auc.Art sale”, says Saria, “I hope to be able to work with young artists like that again.” She’s also working on a new project with two friends to connect freelancers in the Levant to accessible freelance opportunities in Europe and the US. “Whatever the craft is, we’re here for it and we want to connect those freelancers to accessible opportunities abroad”, says Saria, “We really believe in their talent and everyone can use more of that eye.”