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Lebanese Photographer Rabee Younes on His 8-Year Self-Discovery Journey and Finding a Home on Paros Island

When photographer Rabee Younes went on an extensive eight-year journey of self-discovery, he didn’t know the way would lead to a new venture on Paros Island.

Photo: Chantal Formizzi

Rabee Younes is sitting in his whitewashed home on a hill overlooking the sea, in the village of Naoussa on Paros Island, Greece. The Lebanese photographer is discussing his new venture Art Therapy, launched in 2022. “Last winter I dedicated four months to studying the book series A Course in Miracles with countless hours reading and writing,” he starts. “These books catalyzed profound shifts in my perspective on life and in how I relate to people.” One week after finishing the studies, the process of materializing Art Therapy began. A 950 sqm space was prepared in a farmland located between Naoussa and Prodromos, and artists came to him – or he found them – and within a month, he was hosting an opening party. Art Therapy is a communal space that enriches the Greek island with culture and art. It serves as a hub for a diverse range of workshops and exhibitions. It provides artists with an opportunity to authentically express themselves and showcase their creations.

Photo: Chantal Formizzi

Younes, who describes the past 12 months as a transformative period, packed a suitcase several years ago from his base in the UK, leaving behind his home and possessions. He traveled to various countries to participate in workshops and learn from different mentors and belief systems. “My quest revolved around the big questions in life, the existential questions.” One of the many workshops he attended was held on Paros Island at a spiritual center. He frequented the island in the summers, and over time, it deeply resonated with him. “Eventually, I made the decision to make it home.”

The artist, whose photography journey started at a very young age, recalls when his father introduced him to his film camera when he was eight. “I was captivated by the different buttons and knobs, and from that moment, the camera became my constant companion.” With time, he began immersing himself in fashion magazine editorials, entranced by the imaginative worlds each story portrayed. “This fascination led me to embark on a career as a fashion photographer,” he says. He went on to make campaigns for the likes of Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, and AlUla. Many artists inspired Younes: fashion photography pioneers like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, and Guy Bourdin along with the fantastical productions by Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, and Peter Lindbergh.

Photo: Chantal Formizzi

Younes’s family emigrated from Lebanon to Jordan, where he was born. He then made his way to Canada, and later, ventured to Lebanon to explore his roots. Subsequently, the photographer lived in the UK and made several shorter stops before Greece. “As I progressed in life, I came to understand that releasing all attachments to a predefined identity is essential for soul growth. The identities we carry are bestowed upon us by our caregivers and the societal and cultural settings we grow up in. We construct a rigid notion of ourselves, impeding our capacity for change. It requires letting go of everything that has been handed to us as identity to truly unearth our essence and discover our authentic selves,” he says.

Younes believes the concentrated effort of making art brings about a meditative state, anchoring the artist’s awareness in the present moment, reducing stress and facilitating emotional expression. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are quite extensive on the mind, body, and spirit. The idea of an art gallery started to mature after Younes experienced the island life. “Living on an island in the winter is an interesting experience; you’re left to your devices with few distractions. The island feels empty and deserted and the wind of the Cycladic islands can keep you bound indoors for days at a time. For me, this is the perfect environment for deep inquiry and focused studies.” Younes relies on his photographic eye to seek visual harmony and the genuine emotional response each piece elicits within him. “This is how I select the artists and pieces featured in the gallery, and it informs my approach to curating each exhibition.”

Photo: Chantal Formizzi

From the displayed works, Younes has no favorite, with each having its own message. From Dimitrios Tade, Younes sees an inner child play on the canvas without all the seriousness of creating art. He also gravitates towards the narratives from artists Konstantinos Papagiannopoulos and Dionisos Pappas, and the sustainable works and compositions of Beatrice Chateau’s marble pieces or Anna De Roo’s pattern work.

Today, Younes feels grateful to everyone involved in lending a helping hand in building his refuge. He has many prospective projects on hand, namely a residency program aiming to give artists a chance to experience the island and create art while being hosted by him. Art Therapy stands as a notable landmark in the Cyclades, attracting both residents and tourists who seek distinctive pieces from local and international artists alike.

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Vogue Man Arabia

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