SAVING BEIRUT’S ARTS AND CULTURE SCENE

Image Credit: Marie Nour Hechaime, curator at Sursock Museum/The Art Newspaper

It’s been a week since a horrific blast ripped through Beirut, causing at least 220 deaths, 7,000 injuries, US$10–15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

Along with grinding the Lebanese capital to a halt, the explosion also impacted its arts and culture community. Art galleries suffered damage, lively cafes and community centres are now eerily silent.

Destroyed Landmarks

AFP/Joseph Eid and Anwar Amro 

Many of Beirut’s treasured historical landmarks have also been ravaged by the explosion, among them is the Sursock palace, a converted 18th-century palace that was also known as the Palais de la Residence. 

Built in 1860, the 160-year-old palace withstood two world wars, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the French mandate and Lebanese independence. After the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, it took 20 years of careful restoration before it was all destroyed in a split second.

It is home to beautiful works of arts, Ottoman-era furniture, marble and paintings from Italy — collected by three long-lasting generations of the Sursock family.

Another is the Sursock Museum. It was built as a mansion in 1912 before being converted into a museum nearly 50 years later, as instructed in the will of its owner, Nicolas Sursock, who wanted his grand home converted after his death.

Outpour of Support

Along with aid, support, and charitable donations pouring into the country, those within the arts and culture community have also stepped up to help those affected by the blast.

Artists such as Dubai-based Lebanese artist Fatima Dia is auctioning her painting “Rising Angels,” There are still 17 days to place a bid, as of August 12, 2020, the highest amount is $21,500 (AED 78,958.75).

Photo credit: @fdia_art

UAE-based companies and community organisations, such as Piece of You, a jewellery brand and member of the Pure Gold Group, BlankCanvas Community, an Abu Dhabi-based community arts organisation, Amongst Few, a Dubai-based apparel brand, Talar Nina, Dubai-based Ready-To-Wear label are also donating proceeds towards supporting the Lebanese Red Cross and Lebanese-based NGOs.

Regional and international organisations from Egypt to Italy to Australia to South Africa and beyond are also doing their part to stand in solidarity with the Lebanese people.

Preservation Efforts

Arts-based organisations are also doing their part to preserve this crucial element of Beirut’s – and Lebanon’s – cultural identity.

Middle East Archive has a public Google Docs sheet that’s updated regularly, which is being used as a directory and information hub to help independent artists, collectives, researchers, organisations, and more.

On August 12, 2020 at 6PM Beirut time, artists from around the world will be converging for a 24 hour livestream fundraiser on Twitch for Beirut with 100% proceeds split equally across Beirut-based charities working on the ground.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and our way of trying to understand the explosion’s massive impact on all aspects of Lebanese life.

It’s also the first in a series of articles that we’ll be working on so keep an eye out for them.

Until then, we’re going to do our best to support the victims and help spread the word about what’s going on in Beirut.

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