The boxy red-brick buildings of Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser district are uniform in colour but slightly different in size and shape. Tightly packed together with a ramshackle appearance, they stand along narrow alleyways, where green and white sacks stuffed with rubbish lie in malodorous heaps. More bulging bags spill over balcony rails or pile up on rooftops beside dusty satellite dishes. One of Cairo’s poorest neighbourhoods and home to the city’s rubbish collectors, Manshiyat Naser is the unlikely canvas on which French-Tunisian artist eL Seed chose to paint “Perception”, a sprawling mural spanning more than 50 buildings.
A couple of weeks after I moved into my last flat in Beirut, I asked my new landlord for the address. “Geitawi,” he said, referring to the name of the neighbourhood, a collection of mismatched concrete buildings with flat roofs that sprout like mushrooms from a hillside. When I pressed him for a more precise location, he looked at me suspiciously. “Just say it’s near Bank Libano-Française,” he said, in the voice of someone addressing an imbecile.
After persuading him that visa forms require more detail than “I live near a bank,” he finally conceded that I could write St. Louis Street as my address. But that turned out to be the winding road off which my street led – the one where the bank is located. My street had no name at all.
Offices and hotels in Beirut have addresses and so, supposedly, do private residences. But give a taxi driver the name of any but the most major thoroughfare and he’ll stare at you blankly and wait for you to elaborate. Beirutis navigate using landmarks agreed upon by some mysterious consensus. These are subject to an informal hierarchy. Government and religious buildings, hospitals and universities come first, followed by garages, banks and pharmacies, all the way down to billboards, dustbins and large jasmine bushes – the landmark I used to direct people to my flat.
BEIRUT // While drama therapy has long been recognised as a tool for working with convicted criminals, one woman has found success in using theatre to fight for the rights of prisoners and bring change to Lebanon’s penal code.
Drama therapist Zeina Deccache holds drama therapy workshops for inmates of Lebanon’s prisons, including Roumieh – the country’s largest and most notorious high-security men’s prison.
“It’s a rehearsal for life,” she says. “They make meaning of what happened. They learn to take responsibility.”
Simultaneously, she employs theatre as a tool of public policy, using it to petition for changes to the penal code.
At the heart of Alsarah & the Nubatones’ second album, Manara, is the concept of home. What is it? Where is it? What does it sound like? The Brooklyn-based quintet define their sound as “East African retro pop”, drawing from a wide range of musical influences – from Ethiopia and Zanzibar to Kenya, Egypt and Sudan – and particularly traditional Nubian “songs of return”.
Nubia, a region along the Nile spanning from southern Egypt to northern Sudan, was one of the earliest civilisations in ancient Africa, but in the early 1970s, the community was displaced en masse as a result of the construction of dams at Aswan, which submerged large swathes of land under an artificial lake.
Songs of return are a communal expression of regret for these lost homelands – songs of exile and remembrance that transcend cultural barriers to speak to displaced communities around the world. Continue reading →
The National Museum of Beirut was once one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Closed for over two decades as a result of the bloody Lebanese Civil War, it finally reopened its basement level this month after more than 40 years.
The museum was constructed between 1930 and 1937 to house a rich collection of artefacts from pre-history to the Ottoman period, all discovered on Lebanese soil. When the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, the museum was on the infamous Green Line that divided East and West Beirut.
“The director of antiquities then, Maurice Chehab, decided very quickly to remove the small objects from the showcases and hide them inside boxes in the basement of the museum,” says the museum’s curator, Anne-Marie Maïla Afeiche.
“He put them on shelves and then he walled them off, so if you didn’t have the plan you couldn’t even tell that behind the wall the whole collection was protected … The bigger objects like the sarcophagi he couldn’t move, of course, so he decided to protect them by building a cement case around each and every one.” Continue reading →
This story was originally published by Al Jazeera.
August 8, 2016
Tyre, Lebanon – Palestinian-Lebanese actor and director Kassem Istanbouli is on a mission: to bring the performing arts back to the south of Lebanon.
Before the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon had a thriving film and theatre scene. Tyre’s introduction to cinema came in the late 1930s, when a cafe owner bought a 35mm projector and began screening films on a tablecloth hung on a wall beside his cafe.
The makeshift theatre was an immediate hit, and more formal establishments soon opened; by the mid-1950s there were four cinemas in Tyre, and four more soon opened in nearby Nabatieh. Many also hosted live performances by famous actors and musicians, serving as community spaces where people from different backgrounds came together.
But one by one, amid the chaos of the conflict, they closed their doors. Some were damaged by shelling, while others were occupied by fighters or simply unable to make ends meet in a country at war. Continue reading →
This story was originally published by Al Jazeera.
December 30, 2015
Beirut – In the early hours of the morning, Lebanese artist Jad El Khoury, who goes by the name Potato Nose, entered the carcass of Beirut’s abandoned Holiday Inn through the military base that now occupies the ground floor.
He climbed the 26 flights of narrow service stairs, then descended down the side of the building on ropes. Over the course of the next two hours, he painted a series of cartoonish, blue-and-white creatures on the building’s facade, composing them around the bullet holes and craters caused decades ago by shelling.
When Beirut residents awoke to discover Khoury’s artwork last month, they responded passionately, with many expressing anger at his alteration of the landmark building.
“It was really surprising,” Khoury, 27, told Al Jazeera. “But I understand that many people will see it like I am doodling over history, which is not the case. I opened up a debate that was already there – should we fix all the scars of the war, or should we keep them?” Continue reading →