GiB#2 | Tattooed All Over

I just love these stencils we’re starting to see more and more around the streets of Beirut. Not only I find this visible face of Beirut’s underground art scene to be aesthetic, it’s also that it’s so well in tune with the city. It tends to highlight its history, and the scratching paint and bullet impacts on its walls. To me they bring back the image of war-torn Beirut that I have known during my childhood, with the life that kept going underneath. That these stencils started to appear during the severe repression of freedom of speech especially during the Syrian occupation until not too long ago, gives them even more of a symbolic value. It makes them sound like an outcry from the younger generations to the older ones, that we might well have our own ideas about democracy.

These graffiti by local artists are also giving more character to certain industrial areas of the city, some of which are starting to emerge as the next hip/artist loft -type neighborhoods in the near suburbs of Beirut. And the fact that there are so much more popping out lately is like there’s a popular uprising in the making.  
The pics I’m posting are some of the GiB-related material that I have come across during my nocturnal wanderings in the streets of Beirut, with one pic by Joumana Medlej. Not surprisingly, all of these stencils are found in Hamra, except the one that says BAREBACK (!) that I saw in front of the bus station in Jisr el Wati. But the merit of these stencils is not just being work by GiBs. For they are also among the first ones in Beirut: a superb demonstration of pioneering work by GiBs. 
If you want to check out more of these, this photo blog rockandahotplace and this guy's blog Beirut NTSC and his book "Archewallogy - Les murs murs de la ville" have a large collection of Beirut graffiti and stencils, with some additional GiB material too. I also came across two recent books on the same topic, Rhéa Karam's Breathing Walls and Tala Saleh's Marking Beirut. That's quite a few publications for one year! When I look at these images there’s so many of them that ring a bell, it’s like they’re part of the pedestrians’ landmarks by now. Some say the one with the guy from Sukleen is by Banksy… But as much as I would like it to be so, I doubt it really is.

This also reminds me of the story “Gay Community Thrives in Lebanon” which ran last year on NPR, the main independent news outlet in the U.S. One of the interviewees in the story is Hamed from Mashrou3 Leila, who talks about the stencil in the last picture. This stencil marks the current evolution of mentalities in Lebanon, where until recently the official language used for ‘homosexual’ in Arabic was akin to ‘deviant’ or ‘fag’. The audio of the NPR story is worth listening to and below is the excerpt from the transcript.

Keep the graffiti coming guys! I hope it covers the entire city one day. We should do a fundraiser to buy lots of spraypaint, what do you say?

“HAMED SINNO (Graffiti Artist; Student): The thing is, in Arabic, people describe homosexuality as ‘shaaz’ which translates to deviant, literally. And it's the most popular way of describing it, and it's kind of offensive, you know, like someone's basically calling you deviant and it stems from a lot of - like a lot of cultural understandings that are very oppressive. So the graffiti - the guy wearing a mask says who's a deviant? Your mom is a deviant. I'm homosexual.
MERAJI: Hamed himself has been the target of anti-gay graffiti, so he's using his graffiti to express frustration at his own treatment. He hopes to spark a dialogue about homosexuality in Lebanon, where it's still against the law. For Brian Whitaker, a journalist and author of "Unspeakable Love," a book about gay and lesbian life in the Arab world, writes that in terms of opportunities for gay social life and activism, Beirut is as good as it gets. Whitaker credits Beirut's ethnic and religious diversity.”

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