BEIRUT: Film negatives and old newspaper clippings come together in the heart of the exhibition “Hello, Beirut?” with other more contemporary and interactive images and artistic representations on the current crisis in Lebanon, a cultural event that intends to challenge the gangrene history of the country.
The recently opened exhibition, which is due to run for a year, takes place in Beit Beirut in a three-story building known as the “Yellow House” built in the 1920s by famous Lebanese architect Youssef Bey Aftimos.
Riddled with bullets, the building stands on the old “Green Line” separating the Christian and Muslim factions during the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990. Renovated, it has been transformed into a museum and cultural space.
“Hello, Beirut?” puts a spotlight on archives of a troubled past with publications dating from before the civil war devoted to the history of institutional corruption, strikes in the public sector but also to student protest movements.
These archives are installed alongside images, video footage and art installations illustrating similar scenes from contemporary Lebanese history, as the exhibition organizers wish to expose a decades-old tumor at the origin of the decomposition of Lebanon.
“Beirut is suffering, we are suffering,” says event director Delphine Abirached Darmency, saying much of the current misery in the country has its roots in problems from a bygone era.
Beirut’s bygone golden age
The idea for the exhibition came partly from the discovery of archives belonging to a Lebanese billionaire, Jean Prosper Gay-Para, who owned the famous Les Caves du Roy nightclub in Beirut, considered a symbol of the age of gold of the country before the civil war.
Words from Mr. Gay-Para can be read on a plaque: “These sick minds, obsessed with money”, in reference to the country’s political elite, echoing a feeling still widely shared by a population bruised by an unprecedented economic crisis, for which the political class is held responsible.
Mr. Gay-Para evoked “in the sixties what we live today”, added the director of the exhibition.
More than three decades after the end of a bloody civil war, Lebanon is today in the grip of a serious financial crisis, its currency having lost more than 90% of its value and more than 80% of the inhabitants now living under the UN poverty line.
Its capital is still marked by the huge explosion at the port in 2020, due to ammonium nitrate stored without precautionary measures, killing more than 200 people and worsening an exodus similar to that caused by the civil war.
In addition to the archives, the exhibition “Hello, Beirut?” hosts several installations by Lebanese artists invited to present works reflecting their vision of the Lebanese capital.
“The death of his people»
One such artist, Rawane Nassif, presents a short documentary exploring the history of a Beirut neighborhood where she grew up and returned this year for the first time in two decades to care for her sick but deceased parents. from.
The film depicts “loss”, the 38-year-old anthropologist and filmmaker told AFP, because “Beirut is in mourning, it mourns the death of its people and the death of all the opportunities it once had”.
Raoul Mallat, a 28-year-old visual artist, also worked on the theme of mourning in a short film combining family archive footage from his childhood with recent snapshots of Beirut.
“This project, he says, helped me a lot to mourn certain aspects of my city that I would no longer find”.
In the museum, holes in the walls, once used as lairs by snipers during the civil war, are now equipped with screens projecting images of an unprecedented protest movement that emerged in Lebanon in 2019 against the political class accused of corruption.
Nearby, a room is decorated with worn furniture and destroyed objects recovered from the Les Caves du Roy nightclub, now abandoned in an attempt to reconstruct the place.
The aim of the installation by Lebanese artists Rola Abou Darwich and Rana Abbout is to symbolically represent the rubble and tumultuous existence of Lebanon.
“Beirut is built on rubble,” said Rola, 38. “It’s part of where we live, how we live and who we are,” she said, believing that the situation is not going to get better.