THE LEBANESE sense of humour is “as dark as a politician’s pocket”, says Bernard Hage, a cartoonist. In hard times—and there have been plenty of those in the past year—it can be a survival mechanism. Since last September the Lebanese pound has fallen by more than 80% against the dollar. Citizens have watched their savings vanish as banks have restricted dollar withdrawals and blocked overseas transactions. Government infighting has hindered international aid. Persistent power cuts have left homes and hospitals reliant on private generators; soaring food prices pushed many to the brink of starvation. Through all this, the robust Lebanese sense of humour endured. Then came the explosion.
On August 4th a blast caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate—a chemical used to make fertiliser and bombs—stored improperly in a warehouse in Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and left 300,000 homeless. No one is laughing now. But “catharsis humour”, as Mr Hage calls it, has made a satirical board game called “Wasta”, released two months before the explosion, a surprise success.
In a small, soundproof rehearsal room in the mountains just outside Beirut, Lebanon’s first all-female metal band, Slave to Sirens, is getting ready to make some noise. Shery Bechara and Lilas Mayassi, the five-piece’s lead and rhythm guitarists, respectively, unzip cases to reveal their V-shaped axes, and vocalist Maya Khairallah warms up with a practice growl, the raw sound ripping out of her small frame with startling volume. Bassist Alma Doumani is tuning up her instrument while drummer Tatyana Boughaba shakes her thick, waist-length hair out of the way, adjusts her leather jacket and gives her sticks a twirl.
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 →
It has all the makings of a fairy tale: something beautiful, fragile and irreplaceable, saved from destruction by a painter with a vision. Earlier this year, the crumbling edifice of La Maison Rose, perhaps Beirut’s most iconic Ottoman villa, was brought to international attention after British painter Tom Young held an exhibition there, opening it up to the public for the first time in its nearly 150-year history. The overwhelming response helped convince the new owner, a property developer, to restore the mansion and turn it into a museum.
The story stimulated debate about the status of Lebanon’s vanishing architectural heritage. But La Maison Rose is simply the latest in a line of historical houses that have found new leases of life as cultural spaces.