Beirut Street Art: A 19-Photo Introduction

More specifically, 19 examples from on and around Armenia Street in the Lebanese capital’s Mar Mikhael neighborhood, as a very abbreviated introduction to the burgeoning Beirut street art scene.

I didn’t have the opportunity to wander the city’s streets nearly as much I wanted to, so I’m sure that this limited selection, mostly stencils, is not wholly representative of what is being produced. But it does provide a good springboard for further exploration with a large handful of very recent additions the the city’s urban canvas.

I was mostly struck by how similar the designs are to some that I’ve seen in cities half a world away –minus of course the Arabic script which is art in and of itself. The calligraphy is especially appealing when viewed through the window of a slowly moving car as the colorful characters and brush strokes seemingly rain through the scene as you pass, a temporary but nonetheless welcome moment of respite from the chaos that is the city. Unfortunately, I don’t have any images, still or moving, of that, just a fleeting mental image that I hope will linger for a very long time.

According to this 2013 intro in StreetArtNews, artists began taking to the streets with spray cans in the mid 1970s when the Lebanese Civil War, which wouldn’t end officially until 1990, largely divided the city in half. Out of political necessity, much of the early work was propagandistic in nature –much of that still remains– but has also taken on a more aesthetic richness in an attempt to move away from the division that marked the city’s recent history.

Some brisk research into the scene leads mostly to one name, that of Yazan Halwani, one of the leaders of the current street scene pack. From a recent (22 Sep 2015) feature in the The Guardian:

Halwani had grown up with the “feeling that there was not much place for culture” in the city. After the war, “the politicians did not want to reinforce the cultural infrastructure – the public museums, theatres and cinemas; places to push non-sectarian, secular culture through.”

Halwani wanted to create street art that was different from the logos of the political parties: “the people that were doing the vandalism were politicians and they were destroying the city, trying to benefit from it. I wanted to do something different – I wanted to do something constructive for the city.”

And so he resolved to populate the city’s walls with figures that “counteract the sectarian identity” that the politicians seek to reinforce, “with a more national one to try and redefine the culture in terms of these people, instead of the people that feed on dividing Lebanese culture.”

It’s important to Halwani that he listen to the communities around the walls before painting, to “make sure the graffiti is growing with the city and not against it.” He’s not, he’s keen to stress, “trying to force myself on the city, on the walls. You have to ask questions about the geographic area, the context, to paint something that reflects the city in a positive way.”

And from a June 2015 interview with Al Jazeera, explaining the evolution of his style and his desire to incorporate more local aspects into this work:

At first I was doing Western-style graffiti with its flashy colours, the wild styles, the tagging – stuff like that. At some point, around [the age of] 18, I noticed that I needed something that had more identity. In order to do that, I started looking at calligraphy. My uncle had a calligraphy book and he showed it to me, and I’ve been borrowing it for a few years now. I don’t think I’m going to return it.

Halwani notes that he’s encountered few problems from the police who have sometimes even asked if they could join him.

For more, check this September 2013 post from Beirut.com that features “Our 20 Favorite Graffiti Pieces in Beirut Right Now”, which also includes links for further exploration.

If anyone knows who the artists are, let me know and I’ll add credit. If they agree, of course.

Beirut stencil 10 Beirut stencil 18 Beirut stencil 08 Beirut stencil 09 Beirut stencil 01 Beirut stencil 17 Beirut stencil 02 Beirut stencil 03 Beirut stencil 04 Beirut stencil 15 Beirut stencil 05 Beirut stencil 06 Beirut stencil 11 Beirut stencil 12 Beirut stencil 13 Beirut stencil 16 Beirut stencil 19 Beirut stencil 14All images made on 10 November 2015.

And for the record, the lead photo serves as today’s Pic du Jour, the blog’s 700th (!!) straight.

Beirut Street Art - A 19 Photo IntroductionPin This!

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  1. Shellie Troy Anderson says

    Fascinating glimpse. I was wondering when your Beirut street art shots were going to show up. Do you think the stenciling might indicate that protesters/artists have to get in and out quickly?

    1. Bob R says

      I don’t think so, it’s just a style. I’ve watched stencilers at work (elsewhere) and they don’t necessarily move like they’re in a big hurry. In the Al Jazeera interview linked to above an artist explains that police don’t really bother him.

      1. Shellie Troy Anderson says

        Ah, I see. Thanks. 🙂

      2. Shellie Troy Anderson says

        Oh, I should have checked that link first. Thanks. 🙂

  2. strivetoengage says

    These are interesting images and an eclectic mix. I haven’t yet been to Lebanon but I’m curious about it. What was it like being there? I read in the Economist on 5th December that garbage is still piling up. The government is in tatters and it’s a wonder that the city functions. So many Lebanese have left and I wonder how it feels to stay.

    In the photo with the hand it says in Arabic 6 6 6 above the hand and b b b below. Do you know the significance of that? I chuckled about the rocket society.

    1. Bob R says

      No, I have no idea what the significance is. As for the rocket society, I learned not too long ago that many countries have similar societies and programs.

      I only visited Beirut and that was almost entirely work-related, so my glimpse of the country was brief and narrow. Most of the garbage was out of sight by then –at least in the neighborhoods I managed to visit.

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