My stay in Beirut was funded within the framework of a research scholarship by the Senate Department for Culture and Europe and suported by the artist residency marra.tein. The Idea was to find out to what extent the different districts of Beirut are religiously dominated and how the people get along after two decades of civil war. Due to my background, I feel close and distant to the Middle East, which gives me an insider-outsider perspective that is integral to the debates regarding what valid research is deemed to be. I am showing Beirut as a city with people who have a long history, aesthetic values, a broad-range knowledge and tradition that often transcends the social-class system. At the same time, there is a subtle gloominess that can make the days unclouded dark. Born in Beirut, with an Iraqi family and a German family, now living in Berlin my aim is to draw a different picture of Beirut than the mainstream and its long-lasting influence on public perception of the Middle East and its people have to offer. With my drawings, I am trying to emphasize this view. In most of my works I am following the tradition of Edward Said and his critic on western conceptions of „the Orient“.
Text, Drawings and Performance
Currently I am working on a series of drawings and am writing a text about my walks through Beirut.
It sounds like this:
A glass with ice cubes in it, a street corner opposite a dry cleaner called „Elegance“, a birthday cake in the shape of an Argilah.
Every day I stroll around the City in the late afternoon. First, the traffic makes me a little tired and headless. It is like during Ramadan shortly before breaking the fast. Everyone is heading home. Then, around five or six o’clock, it gets calmer and sweet. The smell of Jasmine is in the air. In certain areas like Monot or Mar Mikhail, I see ladies drinking wine or cocktails during the Happy Hour. I somewhat envy them, sitting there in silky outfits with glossy hair and perfect makeup having conversations about what they like and how much it would cost. But I don’t treat myself to a happy hour because alcohol makes me uncomfortably tired. I have to move on, keep going and wandering. In the later evening, however, I sometimes sit in a Café because there I have peace and the opportunity to read or write. When I was here for the first time, it was pure coincidence, because I went for a walk in the area, attracted by its alleys and stairs. Somewhat hidden then lies this café, like a shed with a garden in front of it. Outside on the ground, there are pebbles and a few trees evenly distributed. You sit on metal armchairs or garden chairs. Inside there is a counter behind which bearded young men work, who let each of my questions pass through their heads before they answer it. As if they are weighing my words. This evening a man plays guitar, loud and amplified. He works with effect devices so that the guitar sounds like an organ. The garden is full of people, the audience in its early twenties. A few girls are listening attentively to his music. They are turning their eyes upwards.
A helicopter has been circling over us all day. It seems to be something out of the ordinary because people look up at the sky.
I am glad that the music has no lyrics. The music is not emotionally determinable for me, which means I don’t know what feeling it should express. Maybe there are feelings that I don’t know about yet. At least the guitarist knows them. He is playings his compositions – strongly felt sadness paired with feverish restlessness. One thing is for sure, the guitarist would have to scrub his fingers if he didn’t have the many amplifiers. But the music matches the book I’m reading, or it gives the novel a direction that’s already laid out in it.
In the end, my mood lifts. I make my way home, take a close look at every little shrine on every corner and send my warm greetings to every picture of a saint and every picture of the Virgin Mary. I do not see a crucified Jesus – instead – flowers and candles – in between the photo of a young soldier who died a martyr’s death.
My other Essay about Beirut was published in Merkur Zeitschrift für Europäisches Denken in March 2019 (German)
during her second stay claudia basrawi worked on a series of drawings to illustrate her view of beirut, with an emphasis on the area around marrra.tein and her old family neighborhood hamra. a summary of her insights was published in march in the german magazine “merkur-zeitschrift für europäisches denken“ and 20 of the drawings will be printed along with texts in the berlin issue of the newspaper „die tageszeitung“ as a series throughout summer and fall of 2019.
all images courtesy claudia basrawi