“Sfeir-Semler Gallery,” Karantina, held a huge historical retrospective exhibition of the late artist Aref Al Rayes that includes samples of his drawings, sculptures, and artistic stations, from 1948 to 2005, starting with posters and paintings of wars and violent clashes, passing out to the imagined dream, the stage of desire and women and Flowers of Al-Mutanabbi Street", reaching the stage of serenity and pure abstraction. At one stage, Aref al Rayes art represented a form of protest against aesthetic terms and values, and it may be the only one, let’s say, from the few among Lebanese and Arab artists who have harnessed his art to expose the Lebanese and Arab political system, crudely and without evasion. His art is inciting par excellence, in which he exposed socio-political values since the outbreak of the Lebanese war and its accompanying repercussions, and coincided with Arab and international conditions and situations. But Aref Al-Rayyes soon overturned static artistic ideas and laws, proposing abstract principles, armed at the same time with freedom, spontaneity, and contradiction, adopting chaos, and breaking the boundaries between art and life. In the collage paintings, Al-Rayyes went to a daily and ready-made article, newspapers and magazines, with which to build his works full of politics, society, cultural figures and martyrs in one crucible of absurdity, murder, sarcasm, and scandal, blurring the boundaries between external facts and artistic facts.
The gallery had started displaying Aref Al Rayes legacy in 2019, but due to the epidemic and crises in Lebanon, the exhibition was postponed several times, to travel on a world tour in 2022 under the supervision of artistic curator Catherine David, who has been working on the artist's archive for more than eight years. The curator indicated that the exhibition is missing some important works that show Aref Al Rayes exceptional talent in the field of graphic drawing, as well as in the development of his sculptural practice, for reasons related to the limited space of the gallery.