xanadu* was born on the number 2 train, on the way back from the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn, New York City, in 2001. Zena el Khalil and Imad Khachan were discussing the art scene in New York and other related issues including the obstacles new comers to the art world, like Zena herself, were facing in exhibiting their work. The duo also felt that, within the gallery spaces in New York City, there was an under representation of budding international artists, especially from Arab and Eastern countries.
Zena and Imad were in NYC when the unfortunate events of 9-11 happened. After the towers fell, they found themselves being marginalized simply due to their ethnic (Lebanese) backgrounds. In 2003 they decided that xanadu*, as an idea/concept/space, was ready to face the big city. The hope was that xanadu* could become a platform for Arab (and underrepresented) artists to combat erroneous stereotypes that emerged from the wake of 9-11 and portray a positive side to all the negative allegations. They officially opened their exhibit space in November 2003.
For three years, xanadu* held monthly events that included art exhibitions, poetry and music performances, publications, and even chess lessons (due to Imad’s passion for chess). xanadu* became a point of convergence between locals from Greenwich Village, where the gallery was situated, to Arabs who were either Arab Americans or like Zena, just passing though. It was an eclectic mix of artists, writers, poets, performers and chess players building bridges with their community. People of all ages and ethnic backgrounds passed by to look at artwork, have a coffee, and even occasionally learn some chess by “undercover” world-class players.
In 2004, xanadu* moved to Lebanon with Zena. But only as a concept/collective and not a physical space. Zena focused on doing specific events and exhibitions in different locations and gallery spaces around Beirut. The Beirut events included everything from one night "happenings" (that took place at the Masrah Al Madina) to month long exhibitions. In 2006, xanadu* curated the "Shu Tabkha, Ya Mara? (What's Cooking, Woman?) art exhibit in partnership with the International Museum of Women. That same year, xanadu* and local art powerhouse Espace SD co-curated "Nafas Beirut", a testimony to artwork made during the July 06 war.
In the meantime, xanadu* New York continued to have a presence on Thompson Street, but slowly moved from exhibiting art to production; by supporting Arab writers, artists and filmmakers in producing their work.
In 2008, xanadu* Beirut with Ramzi Hibri organized “8.8.8.”- a first of its kind event in Beirut celebrating the collaboration of musical and visual experimentation. Local musicians played outdoors on a stage situated in the middle of a beautiful garden in an old abandoned Lebanese house. Artists drew and experimented with live visuals, inspired by the music. Animations and videos were projected on several screens throughout the outdoor venue. Video jockeys mixed images to sound.
In 2009, xanadu* produced Beirut Live, a one night event in London at
the Vibe Bar on Brick Lane. Beirut Live was a celebration to Beirut; an exhibition of cutting edge Lebanese art & culture, including performances by Nadine Khouri, Rayess Bek, readings by The Amazin' Sardine and photography by Ayla Hibri, Karen Kalou, Andrew Brandse and Marie-Joe Raidy to name a few.
Since then, xanadu* Beirut launched its publication program; the Maya Ghannoum Project, to help young writers, poets and artists share their work with their peers in Lebanon. xanadu* has currently published the first four issues of the Samandal Comics Magazine and well as books of poetry by Hind Shoufani, The Amazin' Sardine, and the first anthology of The Poeticians.
The asterisk in xanadu* translates to “a beautiful place”.
xanadu* stands firm in its commitment to making this world a better place through art, literature and music. And as long as we find voices in need, we will continue to try and wave a magic wand, build castles and even provide the sparkly slippers. Because everyone needs a fairy godmother.