The National - News

‘The women are keep­ing this rev­o­lu­tion very moder­ate, very de­cent, very cre­ative … I want to tell the women, thank you’

SCULP­TURES RISE FROM THE RUB­BISH ▶ Two new works tower over Mar­tyrs’ Square, the site of protests in Beirut. Laura Macken­zie speaks to the artists who cre­ated them

-

First, there were the mar­tyrs. Then, the phoenix. Then, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary woman. In the past two weeks, the famed bronze statue in Beirut’s Mar­tyrs’ Square that was built in hon­our of Le­banese na­tion­al­ists ex­e­cuted by the Ot­tomans in 1916 has been joined by two neigh­bours – two sculp­tures that are decades younger than the civil war-scarred statue, but which are ar­guably just as pow­er­fully sym­bolic.

One of the new sculp­tures, a gi­ant phoenix, po­si­tioned as if about to take flight, was pieced to­gether by anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers out of the re­mains of protest tents de­stroyed by gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers. “It was re­ally a col­lab­o­ra­tion of all Le­banese peo­ple – of all re­li­gions, all sects, all ar­eas,” says Hayat Nazer, the Beirut-based artist who had the idea for the piece. “There

were even old men with white hair work­ing on it. And there were sev­eral who had blood com­ing out of their hands be­cause the metal pieces (from the tent frames) were bro­ken and had sharp, ragged edges.”

Nazer, who had orig­i­nally gone down to the protest site, just south of Mar­tyrs’ Square, on Le­banese In­de­pen­dence Day to build the phoenix alone and was quickly joined by a hun­dred peo­ple want­ing to help, says she begged the men with bleed­ing hands to stop. “But they would not,” she says. “They were like, ‘No, no, we have to fin­ish. This phoenix has to rise.’” And within only a few hours, rise, it did.

Work con­tin­ued on the sculp­ture for a few more days, though, with en­gi­neers and ar­chi­tects of­fer­ing their tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, an­other per­son do­nat­ing LED light­ing to give the crea­ture fiery eyes and blaz­ing feath­ers at night and one man even vol­un­tar­ily wak­ing up be­fore dawn every morn­ing to go and check that noth­ing had hap­pened to the sculp­ture overnight – and then mes­sag­ing Nazer with an up­date.

Such deter­mi­na­tion seems rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the very mes­sage that Nazer was try­ing to con­vey in the first place. As the artist, 32, ex­plains, she had wanted to build the phoenix – a myth­i­cal bird that is born again from the ashes of its pre­de­ces­sor – to show that “we [the Le­banese peo­ple] will not burn, we will not break, we will be vic­to­ri­ous”.

“While the idea of the phoenix on its own is very strong, and it com­ing from the burnt tents is very strong, for me, what’s even stronger is that, on the day of in­de­pen­dence, the Le­banese peo­ple built it”, says Nazer, sit­ting in the protest site at night, rais­ing her voice to be heard above the rev­o­lu­tion­ary songs be­ing blasted out from a speaker as passers-by stop at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals to take pho­tos of the bird.

The sec­ond new sculp­ture to ap­pear in this part of down­town Beirut in re­cent days is also as pow­er­ful. Ti­tled Rev­o­lu­tion is a Woman, the fig­ure of a woman wav­ing a Le­banese flag is made out of rub­bish col­lected from the protest sites in the area, in­clud­ing wa­ter bot­tles, cans and even the plas­tic tips used to smoke shisha – a com­mon ac­tiv­ity for many of those protest­ing.

Pierre Ab­boud, 47, the Dubai artist and in­te­rior de­signer be­hind the work, says he was in­spired to fly back to his home coun­try to build it after wit­ness­ing the strength of the Le­banese women who have taken part in the coun­try­wide protests since Oc­to­ber 17, in­clud­ing the wife of Alaa Abou Fakhr, the pro­tester killed by a sol­dier in front of his fam­ily last month. “When this young man was shot and his wife was kiss­ing his hand [at the fu­neral], I was re­ally touched by the scene and I did a draw­ing. And then I saw all the women on the street try­ing to make peace be­tween the men,” he says, re­fer­ring to the fe­male pro­test­ers who have de­lib­er­ately stood be­tween their male coun­ter­parts, the se­cu­rity forces and gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers to pre­vent blood­shed (one of whom, in­ci­den­tally, has been Nazer, the artist be­hind the phoenix).

“The women are still keep­ing this rev­o­lu­tion very moder­ate, very de­cent, very cre­ative … I want to tell the women, thank you – to my mother, to my sis­ter, to my wife. The women are keep­ing it peace­ful, while they [the politi­cians] want to make it bloody.”

The re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als from which Ab­boud’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary woman is made of, mean­while, are a nod to an­other cen­tral theme of the re­cent Le­banese protests: re­cy­cling and the en­vi­ron­ment. With the coun­try long hav­ing grap­pled with waste crises, pro­test­ers have made it a point to clean up after them­selves and to re­cy­cle as much rub­bish as they can from the protest sites, in­clud­ing in down­town Beirut where Ab­boud sourced his sculp­ture’s ma­te­ri­als from a spe­cially des­ig­nated re­cy­cling site.

“The trash that we have is gold,” says Ab­boud, who de­scribes “trash art” as his pas­sion and who was in­volved in a record-break­ing ef­fort in Le­banon last year to cre­ate the world’s largest re­cy­clable ma­te­rial mo­saic.

“Let’s think ‘en­vi­ron­ment’ through the whole coun­try. Let’s make use of the trash. Let’s be cre­ative and ar­range our en­vi­ron­ment ver­sus art … Le­banon should be the coun­try of beauty and art. And the sculp­ture is a small mes­sage to show how we can do that – us­ing the trash, us­ing the bad things.”

Though Ab­boud’s sculp­ture was de­signed and fi­nanced by him, how­ever, like the phoenix, it is the work of many peo­ple. The artist em­ployed the help of many friends, con­tacts and col­leagues. And when Ab­boud and his team were work­ing on the sculp­ture at the protest site, as Nazer also ex­pe­ri­enced, passers-by kept of­fer­ing to help. “Peo­ple were amaz­ing … There is a vibe I never saw. They helped me all day long.”

Ab­boud, who moved to the UAE in 2005 after find­ing that he kept run­ning into ob­sta­cles with the author­i­ties in Le­banon as a young artist, added that he had never be­fore dreamed of be­ing able to put a sculp­ture in a square in Beirut.

“And to­day, I don’t own it any­more,” he says. “It’s for the streets.”

 ?? AFP ?? Le­banese pro­test­ers build a phoenix from burnt tents in Beirut’s Mar­tyrs’ Square. The sculp­ture was de­signed by artist Hayat Nazer
AFP Le­banese pro­test­ers build a phoenix from burnt tents in Beirut’s Mar­tyrs’ Square. The sculp­ture was de­signed by artist Hayat Nazer
 ?? Pierre Ab­boud ?? Pierre Ab­boud’s ‘Rev­o­lu­tion is a Woman’, a sculp­ture made of re­cy­cled rub­bish in­clud­ing soft drink cans that de­picts a girl car­ry­ing a Le­banese flag
Pierre Ab­boud Pierre Ab­boud’s ‘Rev­o­lu­tion is a Woman’, a sculp­ture made of re­cy­cled rub­bish in­clud­ing soft drink cans that de­picts a girl car­ry­ing a Le­banese flag
 ?? Pierre Ab­boud; AFP ?? Right, a sketch of Pierre Ab­boud’s ‘Rev­o­lu­tion is a Woman’ statue, which now stands near the famed bronze statue in Beirut’s Mar­tyrs’ Square, above
Pierre Ab­boud; AFP Right, a sketch of Pierre Ab­boud’s ‘Rev­o­lu­tion is a Woman’ statue, which now stands near the famed bronze statue in Beirut’s Mar­tyrs’ Square, above
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE