“Nafas Beirut”: A platform for artists bearing witness

“6 Banadoura” by Lina Hakim: The work is a small tribute to the real war heroes to me: the young adolescents from displaced families who volunteered at relief centers. Serious and dependable, their incredible sense of humor in dealing with their situation, their enthusiasm and their strength, helped all of us go on. Portraits of the adolescents are stencil-sprayed on one side of the rice bags. On the opposite side are written definitions and synonyms of the arabic word ‘mekdam’ that stands for heroism or bravery and holds connotations of reliability. The bags are filled with white balloons with numbers for portions of rations marked on them.

Summer 2006 was set to be Lebanon’s post civil war “Golden Summer.” Hundreds of thousands of tourists had flooded the streets of Beirut hoping to catch a taste of an exotic summer in the Orient. Lebanon did not fail them.

On July 12, 2006 Israel began a 34-day siege on Lebanon. One million citizens found themselves displaced. Over one thousand were killed. Thousands of bombs were dropped. Millions of bomblets blanket the south of Lebanon. Over 15,000 tons of heavy fuel oil swallowed up the shores of Lebanon. There was no end in sight.

“3494 Houses + 1 fence”, 6 min. video by Mireille and Fabian Astore: The street scape of Broken Hill, “the accessible outback” country town of Australia, is seen from the viewing platform of a Lebanese reality. Houses, neat, some pretty, some with children playing in front collide with sounds remembered from so long ago, maybe from one of Beirut’s many wars, maybe even from future wars. There, exponential repetition sets apathy on a collision course with fear where mangled silences interrupt - but only to disrupt the remnants of safe living and to send eidetic shock waves through rose-colored lenses. The question of responsibility then emerges to demand, if not an answer, then a pause for grief, for consideration due to the boundaries of the senses and the centrality of the body’s - any-body’s - pain and sorrow.

But Lebanon’s artists were busy. They reacted, documenting this tragic event. They resisted through their drawings and commentaries. They questioned all sides through their writings and blogs. They cried. They took part in relief work. They witnessed; they wrote, painted, sculpted and took photographs. They lived out the long hot summer days.

‘Remind Me to Remember to Forget’, 2”,50’ by Oraib Toukan: A simple literal account of meaning and word. It plays on the idea of a Middle Eastern genetic memory made to forget, using connections of cocaine and breath under siege.

Espace SD and xanadu* present Nafas Beirut, a multimedia venue for artists bearing witness. The aim is to create a platform for artists, poets, writers and filmmakers to share their work produced during or in reaction to the Israeli siege of Lebanon of Summer 2006. Believing it crucial to highlight these works, Nafas Beirut documents the emotions and experiences, and brings artists and viewers together, historicizing the moment. Nafas Beirut is a platform for these immediate responses through a multimedia exhibition and a month long series of events including, video screenings curated by various organizations and collectives, concerts, an open mike poetry jam, and a lecture on the oil spill.

“Super Star” by Zena El-Khalil: This is a portrait of a man who, overnight, turned into an international media sensation. Regardless of my political opinions, his voice was the one I waited to hear. I find that by painting him, perhaps I can break past the media pop star, and try to get to know the human being who has come to have such an overwhelming presence in my life.

The multimedia exhibit includes more than 40 artists of different backgrounds, hailing from around the world. These works are reactionary; they were made out of an urge. To highlight a few, they are raw as seen in the 12-poem piece of Wissam Nouchi entitled “Remember to Forget Beirut”. They are emotional as Sintia Karam, trapped outside of Lebanon wanders around Berlin hoping that somehow her footsteps would take her straight back to Beirut. All the way from Australia, Maissa Alameddine and Fadia Kisrwani Abboud, create an installation entitled “Return to Sender,” in reaction to the millions of Israeli flyers that were dropped on Lebanon. Lina Hakim creates an installation in homage to her real heroes of the war: the teenagers she met while volunteering at a shelter. Zena el-Khalil paints a portrait of Hassan Nassrallah as seen through her eyes. Raed Yassin displays his daily adventures with Nabil Fawzi, a.k.a. Superman. Maria Kassab’s delicate drawings portray her downward spiral into darkness and depression. And already, some find themselves moving on as Rowina Bou Harb reveals in her blank white canvas entitled, “Don’t Feel Like Talking Anymore, I Almost Forgot What I Felt.”

Nafas: Beirut will run from October 13 to November 17, 2006. Espace SD is open daily from 3-8pm except Sundays.

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