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Art Survives Shot And Shell To Reach London

April 20, 1989

LONDON (AP) _ Somehow from war-battered Lebanon, paintings and drawings by its artists spanning 200 years have reached the British capital for an exhibition opening today.

Some of the 270 works have been restored after damage by bullets and knife cuts by vandals. One retains a shrapnel hole. Three of the 70 artists whose works are displayed in the show have been killed.

A 19th century portrait by Habib Srour had hung on a wall that was later destroyed by a shell after the painting left for London.

″You have saved my grandfather,″ the exhibition committee heard from a grandson of the artist.

Zeina Toutounji, one of the organizers, is a niece of the wife of Spanish ambassador Don Pedro Manuel De Aristegui, who was killed by a shell in his Beirut house on Sunday.

″I feel terrible about what is happening in my country. These paintings say this is not our war, that we have nothing to do with the war - that is the message of the artists,″ said Myrna Bustani, a businesswoman who commutes between Beirut and London and helped put the exhibition together.

″I was last in Beirut in January looking for paintings; there is not much business these days,″ she said, forcing a smile.

″The truck taking the paintings to the port was stopped four times by shelling and had to turn back,″ Mrs. Bustani said.

None of the 30 artists and lenders in Lebanon who were invited was able to leave the country, she said.

Of the artists who have been killed, Khalil Zgaib was shot by a sniper on his balcony and Ibrahim Marzouk was killed by bomb shrapnel as he stood in line to buy bread in 1975 when the civil war between Christians and Moslems broke out.

Suha Tuqan was shot in 1986 by unidentified gunmen who fired at her car as she tried to save a French journalist from being kidnapped. The Frenchman was injured but escaped.

The exhibition, ″Lebanon: The Artist’s View,″ through June 2 at the Barbican Center, starts in 1787 with portraits of Greek Orthodox bishops, followed by dignitaries and politicians.

It proceeds through landscapes of beauty and tranquility, houses, gardens, fountains, baths, flowers, brightly colored abstracts and scenes of the emancipation of women, to the horrors of the present fighting.

The serenity of the scene changes with ″Wounded Militiamen in Hospital,″ painted in 1976 by Seta Manoukian, who now lives in the United States.

A woman and a cat sheltering underground during the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982, by Farid Mansour, hangs beside the artist’s haggard self-portrait done at the same time, when he was almost starving.

The show, staged by the British Lebanese Association, took three years to organize and the paintings reached London late in March.

Of the 270 works, 210 came from private collectors and institutions in Beirut like the National Library and the American University and the others from outside Lebanon.

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