As part of Beirut Design Week, Designer Johnny Farah and Artist Joe Kesrouani are set to host a photography exhibition on June 28 to showcase photos taken during last year's event, the Interactive Bag [TALKS].

But the exhibition sparked serious controversy on Tuesday when Tweeps started sharing the event invitation online [see photo above], referring to it as an advertisement, and calling for a boycott of Farah's store. The photo on the invitation is one of the photographs that will be on display at the exhibit.







Rebecca Carnell, marketing coordinator for Johnny Farah, tells Beirut.com “the photograph is not an ad, but was taken as part of a photography event where the people in the picture were able to choose their own poses.”

The questionable picture shows a man’s torso and face covered in belts as he strangles a woman with a belt around her neck. The woman is posing, hands wide open, with a bag covering her entire head. In the description posted on Beirut Design Week's website, the exhibition is described as " a whimsical take on freedom of social behavior where participants enjoyed being masked and anonymous behind Kesrouani’s lens."

Beirut.com contacted Kesrouani to get his take on the controversy. He said the original concept was to "portray the frustrations that are leading the Middle East revolutions -- taken to the extreme." He said the pictures were originally planned to be taken in his studio to reserve the participant's intimacy, but the venue was changed to Farah's boutique to add a "fresh vibe to the work."

"Lebanon is a show-off society, so imagine what would happen if we hid people's faces to remain unidentified and let them be themselves? The people [n these photographs] chose to pose this way, and if it wasn't for the open space that we were shooting in, I'm sure the pictures would've been more outrageous than this," Kesrouani said.

Hala Moubarak, one of the Tweeps responsible for starting Tuesday's buzz about the invite, remains adamant that the Kesrouani-Farah photograph does not qualify as art. " It's a stiff picture, and it doesn't serve any artistic or erotic purpose." she tells Beirut.com, adding that "women in Lebanon aren't yet entitled to many rights... and this is clearly not the time to pick this exact picture as a show invitation."

Carnell says a formal apology was sent by email to all those who felt offended late Tuesday. The original invitation has since been replaced with this one:

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