Three artists unite Beirut’s streets

Works will be vis­i­ble in Ver­dun, Ashrafieh and on Da­m­as­cus Road from Oct.15th

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Maghie Ghali

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.

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