The Impact of the Beirut Explosion on the Creative Arts
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Creatively Asian seeks to advocate for Asians in the creative arts. It is imperative that we acknowledge how current events affect the cultural scene, and the repercussions this holds for the future. Educating yourself is the first step to making change in the world. You can visit lebanoncrisis.caard.co for more resources. Feel free to share any additional ideas to assist Lebanese creatives!
On August 4, 2020, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history decimated the city of Beirut. The Beirut cultural community was already strained due to ongoing protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lebanon liquidity crisis; after the explosion, the culture sector was completely devastated. Our Creatively Asian message aims to fight for Asians within the creative community. Keep reading to learn about the cultural impact of the explosion and ways that you can help!
Sursock Museum: The century old modern/contemporary art museum sustained significant damage due to the explosion. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization found that approximately 640 historical buildings were affected, while 60 were on the brink of collapse. The museum was often used as a background for photoshoots; notably, the viral video of a bride and groom was taken near the museum. Elsa Hokayem, one of the museum’s directors, stated that the museum will probably not open for a year.
Another Sursock Museum director, Zeina Arida, noted that “the culture scene relies so much on private initiatives and very often on specific individuals that have been fighting for the past 25 years, if not more, and what is frightening is that we are already so exhausted, so discouraged."
Street Art: Many artists displayed their intricate artwork in local neighborhoods. People from various kinds of life were able to share their messages through their artwork. Artists have been especially influential in the Lebanese protests, as they have called for change in protest art. Speaking out against the regime is a massive risk, as many artists have been detained and questioned by Lebanese military and security forces.
Many galleries near the port of Beirut were wiped out from the explosion, including the Marfa Gallery and Galerie Tanit. This left many Lebanese artists without a stable income; as a result, many artists cannot afford to publish their art, thus limiting their protest against corruption.
Fashion: Lebanon’s fashion industry was already suffering due to the economic crisis, as the Lebanese currency lost value due to inflation. Fashion sales have been particularly low, as the popularity of “fast fashion” has surged over small fashion businesses that preserve cultural heritage and are more environmentally sustainable. These diminishing sales were amplified due to decreased demand after the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
Many fashion designers were hit hard by the blast, from up-and-coming designers to established studios. Fashion creatives in the Saifi Village, Gemmayzeh, and Mar Mikhaël neighborhoods saw tattered collection pieces, raw materials, shattered glass, etc. in a matter of seconds. Designers lost several archives and work that was ready to emerge on the couture runway scene.
“We have zero support on the ground from any governmental institution.” - Cynthia Merhej, fashion designer at Renaissance Renaissance
Architecture: Areas in close proximity to the explosion contained several different Colonial and Ottoman-era buildings. For the past few decades, there has been an “ongoing war” between those who want to conserve the architectural heritage and the Lebanese government. The government has promoted nonrestrictive zoning laws and a lack of formal protection for buildings established after the 17th century. Hence, Ottoman and Colonial-era structures are vulnerable to developers who want to tear them down and replace the older buildings with modern skyscrapers.
Sursock Palace is an example--the three story historical mansion, close to the aforementioned Sursock Museum, was destroyed by the blast. Owners of the mansion see little purpose in trying to repair the building, as long as the current corrupt government policies remain in effect. Many other historical buildings that were damaged by the explosion will not be rehabilitated by the government, a major loss for Lebanese architectural heritage.
Theater: Theater Gemmayze, a 126 year old renovated theater, now seemingly appears as a dystopian movie set. Walls and ceilings are destroyed; the only in-contact object is the chairs, according to the director Joe Kodieh. Almost every Beirut theater is in ruins, including the Sunflower theater established by acclaimed Lebanese playwright Roger Assaf.
Many theaters in Beirut have long been used to highlight social and civic issues. Documentary theaters highlighted a variety of topics, from Lebanon’s largest sex trafficking ring to the traumatic effects of the Lebanese Civil War.
“We’re still in disbelief and trying to fathom what happened. Each day we learn about a new loss, a new story.” - Sahar Assaf, professor of theater at American University of Beirut
How Can You Help?
Although one may not live in Lebanon, it is critical to support and have empathy. There are many different ways you can help support Lebanese creatives during this time.
Organizations to donate to:
Beirut Musicians’ Fund - An organization which aims to replace Lebanese artists’ damaged, lost, or destroyed gear.
United for Lebanese Creatives - An organization dedicated to identifying and providing assistance to various Lebanese fashion designers and creatives who have been affected by the explosion.
Li Beirut Fund - A new initiative established by UNESCO, aiming to promote culture, heritage, and education rehabilitation after the demolition of the explosion.
Lebanon Solidarity Fund - An initiative launched by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture to support creatives in Beirut who were directly affected by the explosion.
Resources to learn more:
Originally created and posted on September 6, 2020, via Instagram (@creativelyasian) by Abel Abraham, Director of Civic and Cultural Engagement. Click here to go to the post!