Within ten days of arriving in Beirut, I already found the artist I loved. I just didn’t know who he or she was yet. I found the mural of a female singer in Gemmayzeh (I hadn’t even heard of Feyrouz yet.) How am I going to figure this one out? Who is the artist? What is this mural all about? And then the fun began. A long story short: many questions to many people, got the artist’s name, contacted him on Facebook, he got back to me, and now I can ask him anything anytime and he always gets back to me. Below is our chat and I hope you will learn more about what makes this 20 year old artist tick:
TOKIDOKI: Tasso came over from Germany and collaborated with you, is any of your art on the streets of any other countries yet?
YAZAN HALWANI: Yes, I painted in France and I have a lot of canvasses that were taken from Lebanon to Saudi, France, Emirates, USA…
TD: Do you consider what you do to be street art or graffiti? Is there a difference? If so, what is it?
YH: I don’t like to fit what I do into the labels and connotations of “street art” vs “graffiti.” I paint walls in the streets that have constructive socio-political messages without letting go of aesthetics: I don’t know what to call that. Yes I acknowledge that there is a difference between both in the scene; graffiti being more “gangster” and less constructive, and street art being more artistic. But honestly, who cares?
TD: How does putting your work on the streets of Beirut jibe with the police? Are the Ali, Marmoud, Tasso murals legally commissioned? How do you get the support?
YH: I got in a bit of serious trouble a few times for painting political graffiti (the Samir Kassir mural.) I got interrogated and searched for two hours and during those 2 hours, I became really good friends with the policemen that were asking me questions under the bridge. Their superior called them at the end of the 2 hours asking them to bring me to the station but they answered “Sorry Ahmad, it would be impolite to take them in, the guys (my photographer friend and I) are our friends now.” Other than that, if you talk to them and answer their questions they might end up painting with you. None of these murals are commissioned, I pay from my own money to finance these.
TD: I see your striking Arab calligraphy/social commenting murals around the city, but do you create street art in any other forms: stencils, stickers, paste-ups, signature tags…?
YH: I use some stencils in my murals for patterns and such. I do some experimentation with a lot of stuff on the side. I do not tag, though. It is too easy, and it helps our politicians who are determined to ruin our city.
TOKIDOKI: What is YOUR message you are sending to the world?
YAZAN HALWANI: My message has different aspects: -Creation of a local culture, and cementing existing traces of it (Lebanese or Arab) – Limiting the influence of corrupt politicians and violence -Making Beirut look better.
TD: Who are your three favorite international street artists (outside of Lebanon) and why?
YH: Tough question: I like TASSO (Ma’claim crew) for his technique, ideas and modesty most importantly. I like MADC for the colors and movement in her pieces. I like BATES for the huge amount of good pieces he has compiled. Although I like their work, my inspirations are broad in calligraphy mostly.
TD: I hear you’re in the process of creating a piece on Khalil Gibran. What inspires you? Lebanese pride? Marmoud…the plight of the homeless with Ali…? WHAT is your inspiration?
YH: The Gebran Khalil Gebran is a bit special, hopefully it will be more than a wall. I feel bad that in Lebanon we don’t have widely known cultural figures like all other countries in the world (France: Hugo, Matisse, Chopin…) and it is not because of the lack of creativity, but rather because of the lack of support and cultural infrastructure. This is why I try to spread our cultural figures on walls.
TOKIDOKI: In your opinion, what are the TOP 5 countries in the world for street art and why?
YAZAN HALWANI: The whole of South America for having created their own version of street art using their culture. Germany, too many good artists. France, a lot of different styles. (can’t name 5)
TOKIDOKI: Where do you see you and your art in the future?
YAZAN HALWANI: You should ask this question to Michel Hayek, I have no idea, I hope to have done some change in this world/country/city/street/building.
TD: What ideas are you trying to implement through you art into the Lebanese social conscience? Compassion, peace…?
YH: I think there are a lot of ideas that need change. Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Social Responsibility, Constructiveness, etc.
A million thanks to Yazan for a closer look into what he’s all about. Here’s a link to Yazan’s Graffiti Art FB page to see even more of his work: https://www.facebook.com/YazanOne
JUL/AUG13. Beirut, Lebanon.