Through her person and the galleries she owned and operated, Odile Mazloum is an icon of the art scene in Lebanon with a history that’s probably the longest. Her prodigious career started in 1964 when, only 19 years old, she returned from Paris where she’d already finished her studies with distinction at the Ecole du Louvre and the Beaux-Arts. She recalls the moment of magic that brought about her first gallery:
“I was having lunch in Hamra and accidentally saw a locale that I immediately fell in love with; three floors on a corner, with windows all over, and I learned that it was for sale. My heart was pulsating so hard that I couldn’t even drive; I rushed to see my father in downtown. I grabbed him from Massoud, the gathering spot for artists and intellectuals at the time, and with all the exuberant enthusiasm of my young age, took him to Hamra to convince him with the shop. It worked!”
"My heart was pulsating so hard that I couldn’t even drive; I rushed to see my father in downtown."
1964- 1975: The Glory Days
Getting the collections for the gallery wasn’t difficult for Odile. She’d already had wide connections with artists from Paris, some of them were her teachers or friends, so the abundant exhibitions in the first period were dedicated to their work. While in Paris, she would also buy beautiful art pieces, ship them to Beirut and store them at her father’s antiques store in Allenby Street, and those later became part of the gallery’s collection. At that time, the Chinese Revolution was also in full swing and Mao’s army was systematically destroying historical artworks, especially those with a religious connotation or referencing the Buddha. Luckily some of those pieces were saved and found their way out of China. Odile and her father bought several of them and dedicated a full floor of the gallery for them. Ironically, the typical customers of these antique pieces today are wealthy Chinese who seek them everywhere.
The War Period
One of the first bombs of the dreaded civil war hit in front of Odile’s gallery. It was the first sign of the disasters to come, and people were barely able to grasp the changing reality, and the changing city surrounding them. Suddenly there were two cities, with limited and infrequent access between them. Odile, who lived in Ashrafiyeh, couldn’t reach Hamra anymore, so the gallery was maintained for a while by an employee who lived in the area. That was obviously not sustainable. Like many Beirutis, Odile left the capital and moved home and the gallery to Kaslik. It was those fleeing families who built villas in the hills facing the Casino du Liban who became her customers in the new locale, and who kept it flourishing. In that period, Odile made new connections, and exhibited a lot of local artists who were emerging at the time, and who later became celebrities with her support. When the war ended, families gradually returned to Beirut, but the branch in Kaslik remains open until today.
2004-: The Saifi Period
The predecessor to many boutiques and galleries in Saifi Village were the many editions of the yearly Souk El Barghout. A lot of the art dealers and designers who used to participate in it ended up setting permanent shop in the Quartier des Arts. Alwane Gallery is one of them and today it is the culmination and the accumulation of Odile’s career. There she exhibits the works of artists she’d met and worked with: Hoda Baalbaki,Zeina Assi, Fatima El Hajj, Issa Halloum, Hassan Jouny, Guiragossian, Assadour, Chafiq Abboud, Farid Aouad and many others. The gallery’s walls abound with colors and paintings in styles ranging from the classic to the contemporary. The inner rooms are a treasure trove of sculptures and antiques. It’s something like the country’s art memory condescend in a space, and guarded by the watchful presence of the artist herself.