Three artists unite Beirut’s streets
Works will be visible in Verdun, Ashrafieh and on Damascus Road from Oct.15th
BEIRUT: The buildings and other exterior surfaces of this town have become canvasses for any number of large-scale illustrations by local and international artists. Come Oct. 15, there’ll be three more – all reflecting the theme of cultural connection, celebrating the common ground of urban diversity.
They’re being mounted in the context of “White Wall,” the street art festival curated by graffiti artist and writer Don Karl (and co-sponsored by the Goethe-Institut and L’insitute Francaise).
Karl’s last project, in 2012, brought 17 international and regional artists to collaborate with 19 of their Lebanese counterparts. Karl says the name “White Wall” intends to confront the galleries’ industry-standard “white cube” surfaces with urban art.
Titled “A Meeting of Alphabets,” the project commenced last Thursday. The pieces will combine both Arabic and Latin alphabets, while selected buildings will be located in each end of the city.
“Culture is a very important tool, which crosses borders. A country like Lebanon, with such a rich culture, is ideal for this project,” Karl told The Daily Star. “We have three artists who will paint three big walls. You can see the symbolic placing of the paintings as part of a big message of unity, because it brings together the east and west of the city and also the Latin and Arabic alphabets.”
After meeting new artists with whom he wished to collaborate, Karl extended the project an extra week, which will also allow more time for the murals to be perfected.
The three principal artists are French-Tunisian El Seed, who’s created bright, Arabic graffiti pieces around the world, Lebanon’s Yazan Halwani, who painted a hard-tomiss mural of Lebanese pop icon Sabah on Hamra St., and “calligraffiti” artist Niels “Shoe” Meulman from the Netherlands.
“Shoe will paint a wall in Verdun, and El Seed with paint in Ashrafieh, and then we have Yazan who will paint on the Green Line,” Karl explained. “El Seed [started Wednesday] and is painting a beautiful piece about Lebanese heritage and history near Sursock Museum.
“It is a very old building that was cut in half for the road which goes down ... to Gemmayzeh, so it was a building that was amputated and has heritage and a story behind it. The paintings will all be connected by content which is about uniting the city of Beirut.”
Karl says Halwani intends to paint a scene from the movie “West Beyrouth,” while Meulman plans to play with the words “east” and “west” in his calligraffiti style.
“I have an idea and a sketch but since I’m a painter – I also do abstract painting – there is a lot of improvisation,” Meulman told The Daily Star, describing the 30-meterhigh work. “The basic concept is to mix the words ‘east’ and ‘west.’ I never really realized before but in English if you have those two words, two letters are the same and they’re almost the same word so I’ll switch some letters around.
“The wall itself has two parts so I’ll bring both halves together to become one,” he explained. “It will have a very colorful background and then black calligraphy over it.”
Meulman’s started working and says speed and immediacy are a big part of his process. He titled his style of work “calligraffiti” to specify those who used calligraphy in their street art.
“I come from a graffiti background. If it’s illegal, the longer you stay the more risky it gets,” he joked. “Ten years ago there was no word like ‘calligraffiti’ so it’s very strange to hear the world speaking it now.”
A workshop series was held Oct. 4-5, in parallel to work on the three murals. There are also several digital art presentations happening around the city by German calligraffiti artist Schriftzug (aka. Lorenz Oppipz) and Canadian media artist Mang (aka. Michael Ang).
To celebrate the launch of the project, the artists have already performed two digital art projects in the last 10 days at the Goethe-Institut and on the Fransabank facade in Hamra, with a few more planned this week.
“We are running a two-day workshop with students from LAU on digital calligraffiti,” Schriftzug told The Daily Star, “teaching them calligraphy, and we have other Lebanese artists joining in.”
Joining in with the workshops are Hamza Abu Ayyash, Palestine; Hayat Caaban, Lebanon; and MOE (aka. Mohamad Mhanna).
“We will also paint some smaller walls around the city,” Schriftzug said. “I won’t be leaving Beirut without painting a wall.”
The unveiling of White Wall’s three
murals is set for Oct. 15 on Rue de Damas, next to Total gas station, Verdun Main Street and Michel Bustros Street, Ashrafieh.
Garbage litters a rooftop making up part of a mural created by El Seed on the walls of houses in Zaraeeb, Zabaleen (“Garbage City”) in eastern Cairo.