Resistance and Power: The Street Art of Lebanon
By: Dina Kobeissi / Arab America Contributing Writer
Lebanon has experienced an immense amount of hardship, especially in recent years. A port explosion, economic collapse, and political instability have ravaged the country. In response to adversity, Lebanese in Lebanon and the diaspora have expressed themselves, their feelings, their hopes, and their vision for change in various ways. Today, we take a closer look at what street art can reveal about the Lebanese response to crises. Here, I share real examples of Lebanese street art, some of which were taken by myself and friends while visiting Lebanon in the past few years. What can this art tell about what was and continues to be the state of Lebanon and the Lebanese people? How has street art served as a voice of the Lebanese struggle?
Street art in Lebanon has become an entire movement; graffiti, paintings and murals have become a powerful tool in the fight against corruption, inequality, high unemployment and increasing poverty. Founded in May 2019, Art of Change is one of the organizations at the forefront of the Lebanese street art movement in Lebanon. “If Street Art had any purpose in this revolution it was to be the voice of the disenfranchised. A social commentary of the Revolution as it unfolded.” The art documents what happens; it’s a reminder to the people of why we went down to the street and to the politicians that we were here and still are here.
On August 4 2020, an explosion at the Port of Beirut led to 232 deaths, 7,000 injuries, $15 billion in property damage, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The explosion completely crushed the entire country, Lebanese within Lebanon and outside of it felt shock, pain, anger, and devastation-maybe even hopelessness as Lebanon’s issues were already so heavy, already seeming on the verge of unbearability. But, inaction by politicians preceding and in the wake of the explosion also revealed the immense love and unity that we know can exist. Lebanon had to overcome, and we had to recognize that support for one another was the only way we could move forward. The lives lost mattered. Each and every family member, friend, colleague, cousin, mattered and continues to matter. Street art was and continues to be a tool for resisting our forgetfulness, and serves as a reminder to us and everyone of the pain that once brought us together.
Being chained to religious and political status has plagued Lebanon for centuries and fueled division in the country. Works such as “Change What the Elders Couldn’t” reveal a call for a braking of the shackles of the past normalcy of segmentation. We must do what past generations could not. Despite Lebanon’s salient divisions, many prominent graffiti artists have avoided focusing on a specific religious message, or showing support for a specific sect or party. This in itself is a form of resistance, and a tangible image for change in Lebanese society and politics.
“Kellon Yane Kellon” translates to “all of them means all of them.” This was a popular phrase used by Lebanese protesters to emphasize the complicity of all political leadership in Lebanon’s corruption. It further emphasizes the push for a united front that breaks down the barriers of division in Lebanese society which has only fueled tensions and strengthened the failing political system.
Art has always revealed much about history- a nation’s people, politics, and culture. Lebanese street art is no exception. “Art of Thawra” founder Paola Mounla reminds us that “These pieces will exist forever. They capture key moments and events, forever immortalised in the artwork. They can be used in schools and in books and go down in history as part of the Lebanon 2019 revolution.” If you are lucky enough to visit Lebanon, don’t miss the opportunity to take time to recognize and sit with the street art across the country- it’ll be hard to miss it anyways. I look forward to the day we paint murals in celebration of Lebanon’s perseverance past these times, to a better and brighter future for Lebanon always and forever.