On a warm sunny September day, I came to Venice to meet Mouna Rebeiz . She is a Lebanese-Canadian artist exhibiting her work, The Soothsayer, at the 59th Venice Biennale under the patronage of The Republic of San Marino. Upon my arrival in Venice, I joined Mouna for lunch in the beautiful garden at the Experimental Hotel. Following, we took a ten-minute walk to Saint George’s Anglican Church to see her art installation.
We enter the church together, and I observe my surroundings; the nave is, intentionally darkened with the drawn shades, and yet light slips in between the edges of the shades and the windows. The pews have been removed in order to accommodate The Soothsayer which consists of twenty-two freestanding major arcana tarot cards each with its own picture light. Separate from The Soothsayer is the illuminated Union Jack at the altar in remembrance of Queen Elizabeth. The darkened room draws your attention to the art and adds an element of mystery and theatre. The very name The Soothsayer Mouna drew from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. In front of the tarot cards is a clear acrylic jigsaw totem featuring a poem from Baudelaire in Gothic calligraphy, and along the back wall, there's an acrylic jigsaw puzzle where AI technology substitutes for a clairvoyant to predict your fortune.
Mouna studied at Atelier Cépiade in Paris with Alix de la Source - a painting specialist and lecturer at the Louvre. Mouna learned the techniques of the great masters, and she mastered their strategies. Their influence is evident in her work. I can see Blake, Michelangelo, Pontormo, and El Greco with her painterly hand. The Soothsayer pays homage to the great masters and to her mentor Alix de Source. Yet, The Soothsayer is firmly in the present by pairing or juxtaposing old worldly techniques with contemporary ones. A splash of pink paint in heart form, pumpkins, and a sorcerer’s hat nod to Halloween themes, and bubbles emerging from a caldron evoke cartoon art. These themes add lightness and fun and lend a youthful air. Painted on polished aluminum they bring the viewer into the art. She incorporates Gothic calligraphy that is as relevant today as it was centuries ago. By integrating AI technology into The Soothsayer Mouna draws our attention to how AI is shaping our world for better or worse and everything in between.
Mouna walked me through each of the major arcana cards while engaging visitors in the conversation. Some of the visitors mistook her technical prowess for digital photography. Some of the visitors plunged right into an AI reading, and others had trepidation, including myself.
I rested my hand on one of the acrylic jigsaw pieces long enough for the facial recognition to be activated and waited for my fortune. I lucked out, and I got the Pope. Moments later, a brief prophecy in English and Italian is projected on the back wall and it reads - You have perspective on the situation and a lot of experience: Success is assured. I am relieved and happy, and didn't want to risk another go. Others are more happy-go-lucky. Mouna generously spent time with many of the visitors and gave a beautiful book on The Soothsayer to nearly all who came through during our two-hour visit.
The Soothsayer is on view until November 27, 2022. If you can go and see it.
Let’s get to know Mouna a little better.
What is beautiful to you?
The orange color inside an orange.
Was there a particular experience in your childhood that inspired you and gave you direction in life?
I was born into a family of artists. I grew up amidst musicians, artists, and poets that influenced my whole life and career.
Is beauty a part of your art?
I feel I am a bearer of beauty in the spiritual sense of the term. Beauty is part of my art and my life. Beauty is everywhere, and it is similar to luck. One needs to grasp it, or it flies away.
Does the process of creating art bring you joy?
It brings me pain and joy at the same time. A sentence from Kierkegaard comes to my mind "Man is an anguished tension towards transcendence.”
What did you learn in this process of creating The Soothsayer?
I learned about the archetypal genesis of the tarots, the synchronicity, it is very Jungian, it has to do with the collective unconscious.
When you are in the realm of tarot, your vision of the world changes completely.
How long did it take you to create all 22 major arcana cards for The Soothsayer?
I am not a tarot expert, far from it; and yet it took me less than a week to sketch the 22 major arcana of the tarot, then six months to paint them, working more than twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Pierre-Henry Matard, the tarot specialist that I met in the middle of my process, assured me that I had intuitively grasped part of the symbols of the tarot world.
It was the magic of the moment. The stars aligned and the project came to life. In this year that marks the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, a line from his ‘Divine comedy comes to mind: “Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”
How does art help humanity?
Art transcends the despair in which the world finds itself at the moment. Art is a bearer of beauty and beauty nourishes the soul.
Do you create works of art specifically for these charities to be auctioned?
I did an installation entitled The Tribe, a contemporary version of the totems for the Aurora Institute, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings together the world's leaders at the forefront of technology, science, art, fashion, and philanthropy to improve mental health globally.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
No more abused children