Pazel: Lebanon brand turns Arab artworks into jigsaw puzzles

Founder Camille Saade's first collection features three artists, with plans of introducing more regional artists

The puzzles Camille Saade has created feature the work of three Middle Eastern artists: Bibi Zogbe, Anas Albraehe and Nabil Nahas, featured in this photo. Photo: Camille Saade
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As Lebanon continues to struggle against several ongoing crises, one Lebanese entrepreneur hopes to offer an escape by combining art and puzzles, showcasing talented artists from the Mena region.

Following a visit to Paris in November 2019, art lover Camille Saade returned to Beirut with a jigsaw puzzle she had purchased from a museum. Stuck at home amid major protests and road closures, she found herself with little else to do, and she was struck by unexpected inspiration.

“I started doing my puzzle and this is when I had the idea,” she tells The National. “I was doing a puzzle of an international, very well known artist, but we don’t have a similar product for the Middle East, for artists from our own region. I started researching and looking for how to actually create such a project.”

That's how the idea for Pazel came to her.

“The activity of solving a puzzle is one that I personally enjoy,” she says. “It’s like a meditation. I just empty my mind and focus on the puzzle in front of me. It relieves stress and provides a way to disconnect a bit.”

The idea for Pazel came to her when Camille Saade was completing a puzzle of a famous artist at home. Photo: Camille Saade

Despite having an active and vibrant artistic scene, even well established Mena artists struggle to find recognition, overshadowed as they are by their more internationally-renowned peers from Europe and the US, even in their own countries.

“What I have noticed in my own circle of friends is that, whenever someone is not from the art field in Lebanon and this region, they are not aware of our own artists we have,“ Saade says. “They might know Damian Hirst, but they don’t know Bibi Zogbe. I wanted to create awareness about our art and make it more accessible.”

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon initially made getting Saade’s fledgling venture off the ground a daunting challenge. Hyperinflation and depleted reserves of fresh foreign currency have caused the Lebanese pound to lose more than 90 per cent of its total value over the last few years.

Between the liquidity crisis, the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating Beirut port explosion last year, Lebanon’s economy has been ravaged. Despite this, Saade was determined to see her project come to life.

“I was very hesitant for a long period, until a year ago, when I decided to take the risk and jump and do it,” she says. “I met with Saleh Barakat, a really well known art dealer who has his own gallery in Beirut. He was interested and very enthusiastic. I worked with him to choose the artists. We selected them together.”

Pazel’s inaugural collection of puzzles feature works by an intergenerational trio of artists from the region, each with their own unique style; Nabil Nahas and Zogbe from Lebanon, and Anas Albraehe from Syria.

Camille Saade started Pazel, an idea that brings Middle Eastern art and puzzles together. Photo: Camille Saade

The late Zogbe began her professional artistic career in the 1930s. Her colourful depictions of her Lebanese homeland’s native flora earned her the moniker of La Pintora das Flores or The Flower Painter. However, despite her work being shown in galleries and exhibitions around the world, and being awarded the Lebanese Cedar Medallion of Excellence, she remains largely unrecognised on the international stage.

Nahas, who first began exhibiting his works in 1973, is well-known for his use of fractal motifs and geometric patterns echoing those found in classical Levantine architecture and Islamic art. He remains an active force in Lebanon’s artistic scene. Albraehe, meanwhile, is a relatively young multidisciplinary artist, focusing primarily on painting and theatre, who moved from Syria to Lebanon owing to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War.

“I chose Nabil Nahas because he’s a very famous international artist from Lebanon,” explains Saade. “Bibi Zogbe because I wanted a female Lebanese artist who was also very recognisable [but] not a contemporary artist. Albraehe is a Syrian artist, but still based in Beirut. I personally like his work. He’s relatively young, but he’s now exhibiting in France and the US. I think he has a very promising career.

“I’m producing them in limited editions, to avoid mass production and so that the artists feel safer giving me the rights to reproduce [their works]."

In addition to raising the profile of the artists, a portion of the money raised by Pazel’s sales is being donated to the Beirut Heritage Initiative. The independent collective is working to rescue and restore historical buildings that were damaged by the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020.

“I’ve been following their work for a while. They are doing a really amazing job. I approached them and they loved the project,” she says.

Buoyed by a successful launch, with more than 50 puzzles sold in the first week alone, Saade hopes to scale her business further, offering Pazel’s products to a wider audience and introducing them to an expanded selection of Mena art and artists.

“I’m selling [the puzzles] locally, but they will be available in Dubai soon and I’m discussing with a shop in Paris,” she says. “I also created an e-shop with worldwide shipping, so I hope it will help [us to] sell abroad as well. I was not expecting this outcome this fast, but Christmas is coming, so I guess people are thinking about our puzzles as [gifts].

“I also want to create a more diversified portfolio,” she says. "I was surprised by the impact this project has had and the feedback I’ve received from people. It’s really positive and it gives me hope.”

Updated: December 23, 2021, 10:19 AM
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