Publisher: The Urban Fusion
Publication date: 2018
Canvas rating: *****
“Who are we as Lebanese? What has the war triggered in us? How do the constant socio-political conflicts affect this constructed sense of identity? “These are some of the questions that writer Tamara Zantout poses in her book. Using Beirut’s graffiti scene as her lens, she uncovers stories about a city in constant flux, dealing with conflict, political turmoil, and collective memory. Working with two photographers, Zantout toured the city’s neighborhoods and heritage sites, including Achrafieh, Karantina, Beit Beirut and La Brasserie du Levant, in order to document and decode the meaning behind the messages created by Beirut’s street artists. Across the pages are the works of around 20 artists such as Yazan Halwani, Said Mahmoud, and Karim Tamerji, who provide statements about their motivations and how they became involved in graffiti art.
In these conversations and testimonies, Zantout not only lets us in on the world of street artists but also offers a glimpse into the minds of Beirut’s residents. These tags and messages, it seems, not only reflect situations but also sentiments. Such is the nature of graffiti – it is meant to be in the public domain, so inevitably gets entangled in the politics of such spaces. The book sets off to answer vital questions about Lebanese identity as Beirut undergoes repeated tides of change and renewal. Perhaps the question is too grand to be satisfactorily answered through graffiti alone, but it is a refreshing approach and opens up artistic insights into the makings of a city and its people.