Beirut’s art scene on pause in solidarity with the millions protesting

Beirut’s art scene on pause in solidarity with the millions protesting
Protesters stand with Lebanese national flags before Lebanese army soldiers along the side of the Beirut-Jounieh highway in the northern Beirut suburb of Jal el-Dib amidst on the seventh day of protest against tax increases and official corruption, on Oct. 23, 2019. AFP via Getty Images)
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Museums, institutions, and galleries have closed until further notice in Beirut, Lebanon as the largest public demonstrations seen in decades take over the country. At least two million people have been reported to be part of the multi-city protests, demanding political reforms. This has caused the temporary closure of some of the city’s biggest art destinations like Beirut Art Center, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Dar El-Nimer and the Sursock Museum. Despite opening a major and highly-anticipated new Picasso exhibition with works on loan from the Musée Picasso in Paris, the Sursock Museum temporarily shut its doors in solidarity with the protests.

“Like everyone else in Lebanon, we took to the streets,” a spokesperson for Dar El-Nimer, a major art foundation in the city, told artnet News. “We believe in this uprising and stand by its demands as Dar El-Nimer is devoted to showcasing cultural and artistic productions which are committed to rightful causes reflected in today’s protests. Moreover, it is our duty to stand in solidarity with fellow institutions which collectively demonstrate that art is not detached from the sociopolitical reality of the country.”

The protests began in response to a proposal by the government to tax WhatsApp calls made in the country. The tax was redacted but the protests only gained in momentum, attracting almost a third of the country’s population, to demand a range of issues like fixing a broken economy riddled with corruption and mismanagement.

Ashkal Alwan, a non-profit contemporary art space cancelled its programs and released an announcement supporting the movement. Their press release said: “there shouldn’t be any reason to regret or apologise for the indefinite postponement of our programmes and events. Our artistic, intellectual, and organisational energy will be redirected towards the achievement of our hopes and aspirations, the possibility of which is being granted to us by a momentum that should be seized at any cost.” The statement finished with: “see you on the streets”.

Aishti Foundation, one of the city’s most active and well-funded art spaces, delayed the opening of a solo exhibition by Urs Fischer, which was scheduled to open last week. The website only states that the exhibition is coming soon. Sfeir-Semler, a gallery with locations in Beirut and Hamburg also cancelled its latest exhibition with the artist and Turner-prize finalist, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, until further notice.

Beirut Art Centre (BAC) joined in protest by justifying their closure with a supporting message: “The current regime has ravaged this nation economically, stymied growth and advancement, silenced many and polluted this land with their corruption fear tactics and greed. It has particularly affected the centre with its censorship, restrictive immigration policies for artists (particularly Syrians and Palestinians), and the lack of a logical way to exchange art across borders just to name a few,” a spokesperson said.

Lebanon’s current prime minister Saad Hariri just announced his resignation after weeks of pressure, signalling a potential end to the protests.