BEIRUT, LEBANON STREET ART INTERVIEW: 10 WITH YAZAN HALWANI ~ “making Beirut look better”

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…

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Feyrouz in Gemmayzeh

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.

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Ali Abdallah on Concorde Street in Hamra

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.

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A self-portrait of the artist painting Tasso.

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)

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Arab calligraphy-covered door

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.

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Mahmoud Darwiche on Concorde Street in Hamra

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.

BEIRUT, LEBANON STREET ART: FIND ALI!

This post is directly related to a previous post of mine, http://jacquelinemhadel.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/lbeirut-street-art-ali-abdallah-by-yazan-halwani/:

from http://www.smex.org

“Find Ali: a crowdmapping initiative to help the homeless in Lebanon.”

Forty days after the death of Ali Abdallah, a homeless man in Lebanon, Karim Badra launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about homeless people in Lebanon.

Ali Abdallah’s death during Lebanon’s severe January weather hit Karim Badra hard. Ali had been homeless and he died from exposure to the cold.

As a response to Ali’s death, Badra created a  Facebook page, Ushahidi map, and a YouTube movie to raise awareness about homelessness in Lebanon. On the 40th day of Ali Abdallah’s passing, Karim published his initiative using social media. His movie was nominated in the category of Most Engaging Youtube Video as a part of Beirut’s first Social Media Awards…

There are some unsubstantiated stories running around out there about the real truth of Ali Abdallah’s life. Both stories I’ve heard have him as a former Math and Physics professor at the American University of Beirut a long time ago. And both stories describe him as schizophrenic. But here’s where the stories differ: one claims he lost his mind in his involvement in the civil war. The other claims that Ali was driving in a car with his wife and young daughter and had a terrible accident, with both his wife and daughter dying on the scene.

I don’t know which is true or even if either are true and I welcome the real story if someone can help me out. Help us all out. We’d all love to know and share his real story.

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9AUG13. Beirut, Lebanon.

BEIRUT, LEBANON STREET ART: “ALI ABDALLAH” by YAZAN HALWANI

From brilliant young artist Yazan Halwani’s Facebook page, the story behind his beautiful new mural on Concorde/Hamra in Beirut:

Ali Abdallah.
Ali was a homeless man, and the legend of Bliss Street. I have personally crossed Ali countless times on his street.
A few months ago, Ali died on the coldest night of Beirut’s winter because he was living in pitiful conditions. Ali’s death triggered short-lived actions to help the homeless in Beirut (for one or two weeks).
I painted this mural a few hundred meters from Ali’s street to immortalize him and to remind us that we should not wait the death of another Ali to help others.
I wrote “Ghadan Yawmone Afdal” (Tomorrow is a better day) while listening to a song of the similar title by Mashrou’ Leila, in the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

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by 20-year old artist Yazan Halwani.

16AUG13. Beirut, Lebanon.