February • 17 • 2021

Sharon Arana
Beauty in Travesty: Art as Relief after the 2020 Beirut Explosion

In the summer of the tumultuous year of 2020, one event marked the Middle East like no other: the port explosion in Beirut on August 4th. Considered the fourth “biggest non-nuclear explosion of all-time” by Reuters, this powerful blast devastated a city already struck by COVID-19 and years of socio-economic turmoil. The political and pandemic-induced challenges snowballed in a climax with a mysterious explosion that damaged the area and killed at least 172 people. (1)   

 

Now, six months since the initial blast, many are still reeling from the effects of the disaster and wondering what a post-blast, post-COVID-19 city will look like. To galvanize international attention and relief, the giant cultural and artistic hub that is Beirut called upon its talent. While there are already talks on memorialization efforts and rebuilding art spaces in Beirut, here are some of the most notable art fundraisers that came in the aftermath. 

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Studio Safar x Boiler Room

Studio Safar, a graphic design agency and a space that was damaged in the blast, has collaborated on numerous fundraisers to help support their own rebuilding efforts and those of others. Their print for Boiler Room (also found in the Beirut Editions print fundraiser mentioned below) encapsulates the political state the city of Beirut was in prior to the explosion.

Studio Safar, untitled, 2020, digital, Image source. 

Beirut Editions

From October 13 to December 10, 2020, a limited-edition print fundraiser titled Beirut Editions was held online with 100% of the proceeds going to three different organizations in Beirut providing emergency relief. With seven different print services in New York City teaming up for this effort, the fundraiser included work from more than 40 artists and raised $50,000. (2) At the same time, the “A Night For Beirut” film festival was hosted in Brooklyn to raise money for Haven for Artists and Tunefork Studios, which support Lebanese creatives. The screening included a short film on Lebanese drag queen Anya Kneez and a music video for Beiruti band Mashrou’ Leila.  

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Iman Raad, Still Life with Green Bird, Sunshine, and Pink Rose Bowls, 2020, screenprint on paper, 8.5 x 11”, Print Magazine, image source.

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Raphaelle Macaron, Visit Beirut, 2020, risograph print, A3 format, Raphaelle Macaron’s website, image source. 

Raphaelle Macaron x Studio Fidèle

The Paris-based Beiruti illustrator Raphaelle Macaron, who is known for her colorful pop-art style comics, collaborated with Studio Fidèle to fundraise for Impact Lebanon, one of the biggest organizations providing relief in the aftermath of the explosion. The risograph print sale included works by Macaron that recall the iconic mid-20th-century Middle Eastern tourism advertisements, with taglines such as “Discover Lebanon,” “Have Some Arak,” and more. With this sale, €92,367 was raised by August 16, 2020. (3)

 

Art Queer Habibi

 

The Instagram account Art Queer Habibi (@artqueerhabibi) has been posting artwork centering the narratives of queer culture and intimacies in the Middle East since 2018. These digital depictions of drag queens, nightlife, popular Middle Eastern queer celebrities, and sweet subtle moments of love in different cities of the Middle East in realistic cartoons showcase a world without stigmatization. The city of Beirut, often hailed as one of the gay capitals of the Middle East, is a frequent setting for Art Queer Habibi’s pieces. In the wake of the blast, the artist raised over $4,000 for two LGBTQ+ organizations and Impact Lebanon. (4)

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Anonymous, DAY LOVE, 2020, digital, 8 x 10.6”, RedBubble, image source.

While many of these sales have already concluded, one thing is certain: the resiliency of Beirut and its art scenes will continue to thrive under any circumstances. While art brings healing to individuals and communities, these artists take the metaphor a step further. Artwork and its power within communities can transcend physical spaces and language barriers. When a community is hurting, artists translate this pain into something beautiful for the world to see — a step towards healing affirmed, in this case, by the thousands of dollars raised by just these few fundraisers listed. While this might not be the last travesty to hit Beirut, the response to the blast within the last six months shows that its art community has the foundation needed to uplift and continue forth.

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Sharon Arana is a cultural historian and researcher of the Middle East and North Africa. Her work centers on marginalized identities, social changes, protests and revolutions, and Global South solidarity. She is an incoming graduate student at Georgetown University and received her bachelor’s degree in history from Sarah Lawrence College.

Endnotes
  1. Marco Hernandez and Simon Scarr, “How powerful was the Beirut blast?” Reuters Graphics, 2020, Online.

  2. Beirut Editions, "We raised 50k and received over 1000 orders from all over the world!" Instagram, December 15, 2020, accessed February 15, 2021. Online. 

  3. Raphaelle Macaron, "Thank you to every single person who contributed to this campaign..." Instagram, August 17, 2020, accessed February 15, 2021. Online

  4. Art Queer Habibi. "Thank you for your contribution." Instagram, August 19, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2021. Online.