One on One

Serge Najjar

4 min read
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Nadine Khalil: How are you looking back at the 4 August explosion in Beirut in terms of what it means for the country as a whole.

Serge Najjar: I think that the bomb that went off in the city is the purest expression of the negligence of Lebanon as a nation. Now its people, its good people, find themselves trapped in the dark games of their leaders.

NK: Do you see it as a defining turning point in the history of the country and, if so, how did we get here?

SN: There is so much work to be done and the real work is again being blocked by our corrupted leaders. As Lebanese citizens, it seems that we have forgotten how to exist outside the realm of politics and politicians. Even those who have tried have failed because their confessional and religious affiliations are used against them by the political system. Let’s remember that our leaders are in fact warlords who never actually became anything else. I believe Lebanon will not get better unless we, the people, can regain our country’s leadership and put the warlords aside.

NK: What roles can artists and creative communities play in this debacle?

SN: Luckily, until now we have succeeded in preserving our freedom of expression. Creativity and inspiration shouldn’t be impinged by any obstacle and I don’t think anyone should accept censorship or threats to their creative work. The fight now is for us to retain our rights in expressing ourselves freely and unconditionally. I believe this is the way forward for artists and creative communities. We shouldn’t make any concessions to our freedom of expression because, without freedom, Lebanon doesn’t exist.

NK: Do you think this latest disaster might affect the nature of your work and the kind of distance you create from your subjects?

SN: Honestly, it’s hard to tell now. I just feel that these horrific events have filled me with an anger and determination. The only picture I was able to take after the explosion was that of a young boy, sitting on an open window, from which one could see stairs leading towards nowhere. He wears a t-shirt emblazoned with: “Dear Santa”, and has an uncertain gaze in his eyes. This is how we all feel today. We want to believe in something greater and even though it seems very difficult, we must keep looking towards the light.

NK: Your photographs often adhere to a grid and there’s the sense of extreme control or precision in the composition and symmetry of your work. Do these minimalist, clean façades reflect a past or future Beirut?

SN: Both! These façades comprise Beirut’s identity. They belong to its past and future and no one can take anything related to our cultural heritage away from us. We must protect our history because we can’t fight for a decent future if we don’t preserve our roots. I don’t think that Lebanon’s freedom is an accident of history. We need to preserve this soul of the country.

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