We’ve asked artists, architects and designers plus architectural students from LAU, to share with us their thoughts and ideas as they relate to their favorite cities, Utopian urban design and various life experiences. Here are their answers, along with original works that best reflect their passion, creativity and emotions.
Tell us about the work you submitted and the medium you’ve selected
I’ve chosen to send a few photographs I’ve taken of emptied out streets in Tripoli in the afterhours. The pictures were shot on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan using long exposure, to convey a sense of alienation and an air of soothing – almost threatening – silence. The streets I’ve chosen to portray all hold, in one way or another, narratives of informality that characterize Tripoli itself, a city full of contradictions and possibilities whose secrets I chose not to delve into directly. These secrets belong to the city itself, and it is not my job to uncover, map or document them, but rather to give an homage to their existence, in whichever shape or form they choose to exist.
How does it represent you?
It represents me first and foremost because it is the city I grew up in and built the entire corpus of my personal memories, and the city where the entirety of my family still resides. Secondly, I believe that, by somehow refusing to partake in the process of imagining a utopian or “ideal” city, I am showing my attachment to nostalgia. Political reactionaries of this world should not have a monopoly on nostalgia. I’d like very much to see it transcend its current weaponisation by all sorts of ill-meaning manipulators and trace it back to its deeply romantic, subjective nature. It is currently impossible for to “imagine” a city I would consider ideal, because I believe cities we grow up or live in themselves hold the key to ideal living – if they allow us, of course, to conceive of them as playgrounds, as sites for play and bursting, unfettered imaginaries to come out, the way Tripoli allowed itself to be my playground when I was growing up and building my own situated knowledge. It is both our faults that I am unable to perceive or experience it the way I used to – my fault because I had to abandon it at some point in my life to move to Beirut, but also its fault because it was instantly able to get over me, make me feel like a complete stranger, by taking a path that led it to changing completely, making it almost unrecognizable to its past inhabitants. Shooting pictures of its empty streets at night is a form of closure, a way for me to claim it back, free from all its dwellers and hustles and structural ordeals.
Which is your current city and how would you describe it?
Currently, I live in Beirut, in many ways similar to Tripoli but also quite different. Many have described Beirut in better terms than I ever could and have often resorted to romanticized rhetoric and Orientalist fantasies to do so. I see this city as one whose potential is constantly – and consistently – crushed by its inhabitants, but also, and especially, political leaders. I see it as an increasingly militarised space where creativity rhymes with criminality, and where it has become practically impossible to experience informally, due in large part to gentrification processes and imposing yet dysfunctional infrastructures. I do strive to make it a better place, though, and I have yet a militant sense of hope with regards to its future. For that, it will have to look into its past (and its many contested narratives) and look into a future free of all forms of spatial, but also legal, social and political discrimination.
Tell us a brief story that had marked you in your current city. How would it have been different in your created city?
Recently, as you may have heard, the Beirut iteration of the now global phenomenon that is the annual LGBTQI+ pride has been cancelled by authorities, along with another nightclub the week after, amid a larger crackdown on personal freedoms that’s been afflicting the country and its marginalized citizens for as long as I can remember. I don’t believe things could have been different in Tripoli – not at all. But perhaps my own conception of what Tripoli once was, with its secret hideouts and informal spaces, leads me to believe, I could myself, along with others, have handled things differently, had those events taken place there, which wouldn’t have been possible to publicize in the open, but perhaps to spread across the city in a way or another. That said, I’m not interested in carving out impossible scenarios that could, in an ideal city, eventually see the light of day due to better conditions. I’m more interested in seeing possibility in the seemingly impossible – and for a while, all the question marks and negative spaces around Tripoli sort of allowed these things to occur. You just have to let your imagination run free with what you have, rather than with what you’ve been refused, all the while making sure you are fighting to bring about change on an institutional level.
Where do you position yourself in a world where culture is becoming global? And how does that affect your work?
I firmly believe in rootedness – it is partly why I have refused to leave Lebanon, despite its many limitations with regards to personal freedoms and financial stability. I don’t consider my decision – and, more broadly, my relationship to Lebanon – to be one informed by nationalistic ideals, but one that strives to uphold a sense of belonging in a more abstract sense of the word. While I do agree that the circulation of culture has become globalized, localized cultural practices are now, more than ever, valued and visible, and I try as much as possible to situate myself, but more importantly my work, within that framework, and I guess it shows. At the end of the day, my work deals a lot with local myths and imaginaries, but it’s also about trying to claim back the gaze and switch it around, both through playful and more conventionally “serious” tools.