On the day of the Beirut explosion two months ago, 54-year-old Nabil Debs was busy planning the opening of his boutique hotel which had been in the works for the past decade. Instead, the day after escaping death in the massive blast that killed nearly 200 people, Debs was clearing rubble from the collapsed facade, roof and balconies of the heritage building that was his family home for decades and now a business. With the debris cleared, the halls of the building are now open to paying visitors to view more than 100 works of art by mostly Lebanese and Arab artists, reflecting on the explosion itself and also the turmoil and wars of past decade.
The initiative, “Beirut Year Zero”, features paintings, installations, and sculptures by some 60 artists and aims to raise money to support them and the Lebanese Red Cross, which was at the forefront of rescue and relief work after the blast. Debs – who is one of the curators of the exhibition – said many artists’ studios were destroyed in the explosion which hit Gemmayzeh, a neighborhood known for its galleries and nightlife, especially hard. It “was an assault on our ways and beliefs”, he said. “The political system, the economic crisis, everything is coming against us, so we transformed that anger into…an art front.”
Lebanon is facing its worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. Its banking system has been paralyzed since last year, the currency has crashed by 80% and banks have severely restricted withdrawals. The explosion that ruined a swathe of Beirut has compounded the financial meltdown. British artist Tom Young, who has been working and living in Lebanon for more than a decade, and one of the participants in the exhibition, said artists needed “to do something with this pain and this anger”.
The main inspiration for his work was the Beirut port silo, a towering structure which bore the full force of the Aug. 4 explosion – but by doing so, shielded some western districts of the city from the worst impact. Young said the “hero” silo protected half the city, acting “as a giant sandbag and probably saving hundreds if not thousands of lives”. The exhibition will run until Oct 14, after which around 30 works will go to London for auction at Christie’s.-AFP