Melissa Plourde Khoury, MFA
Assistant Professor, Graphic Design
The Lebanese American University
Plagued by civil war from 1975 until 1989, Lebanon has experienced excessive turmoil, conflict and devastation. Yet, despite the country’s prolonged problematic nature, the tides seemed to have turned as the summer of 2006 began. Festivals, concerts and cultural events were abundant. As the economy, security and stability seemed to improve, expectations for Lebanon were hopeful until “…Israel launched an offensive in southern Lebanon and imposed a blockade of the country in response to the capture by Hizbullah of two Israeli soldiers. …many homes and businesses were destroyed, and trade was largely halted for two months.”(1) From July 12th until September 8th Lebanon was once again amidst conflict. “…the war itself, a senseless bout of destruction that took 900–1,300 Lebanese civilian lives.” (2) The Israeli-Lebanon Conflict, also known as the July War, caused Lebanese artists to use blogs as a means to post their visual retort. Such online communities became crucial outlets for artistic expression. Lebanese art blogs documented personal accounts as well as the war itself. The art blog provided a support system and voice for the Lebanese artist that went beyond the want for personal publicity.
After the July War reactionary art could be seen in local Lebanese art exhibitions and publications however; such findings were minimal compared to the abundance of artists’ work posted online, typically on blogs. Art blogging served as a refuge both during and after the war. “…Lebanon’s artists were busy. They reacted; documented this tragic event. They resisted; through their drawings and commentaries. They questioned; all sides through their writings and blogs. They cried. They took part in relief work. They witnessed; they wrote, painted, sculpted and took photographs. They lived out the long, hot, summer days.” (3) As artists worked in the mediums they felt most comforted by, their creative approaches were diverse. However, of all the means of art making, expressionistic drawings and photographic imagery seemed to most spontaneously capture the urgent nature of war-related emotion. Both sketching and photography were used as instantaneous methods of creating art and compliment the immediate nature of blogging.
Art blogs, unlike news media coverage, of the July War served as forums that visually communicated the events taking place in Lebanon through online dialogues of text and image. These blogs provided coverage of personal and candid perspectives on the war immediately. Direct correspondences between artists and individuals interested in the war-based art were launched with the art blog as a meeting space.
The July War was not the only instance of blogs playing a significant role in the coverage of and dialog about a crisis event. In an article on wired.com, “After 10 Years of Blogs, the Future’s Brighter Than Ever” Jenna Wortham explains how, “There are more than 100 million active blogs… Blogs are re-shaping not just news and entertainment, but also publishing, politics and public relations….blogs have become important news sources in their own right. Behind-the-scenes footage and reports emerged during crises like the South Asian tsunami, the Hurricane Katrina aftermath and the recent Burmese uprising…. Bloggers’ openness helps break through the media clutter to illuminate important issues, and is changing the way traditional journalism engages readers…Blogging at its best is deeply personal, and once readers get used to that kind of connection to a writer, it’s hard for them to accept anything less….The public can find themselves in a dialogue with politicians and leaders that simply wasn’t possible before…(Blogging is) a tool that you can use to do anything. Change the world or put up your restaurant’s daily menu, and anything in between.” (4)
Though it may not have been the initial intent of Lebanese artists to change the world, their need for an outlet of expression sparked interest, compassion and action in individuals across the globe. Artists typically use the art blog as means of self-promotion. However, the art created as a response to the July War served a cathartic purpose. Artists’ work was described on othersite.org as art that, “…is not a yellow-flag-waving, Hezbollah propaganda, no, nor is it art for art’s/money’s/glory’s sake – far from it. This is the work of victims, the work of a people whose identity has been challenged under the muzzle of a rifle; their art is raw emotion, pain, and suffering – the pinnacle of expression through artwork.” (5) And, once posted on-line the art drew attention.
The posts were part of blogs that were either individual or group compilations. Nayla Dabaji’s blog, These Days Lebanon Since 12/07/06 was a group compilation. She wrote that her blog was, “to collect ‘expressions’ in the present and to share them in a virtual, ephemeral, public, international and free place; a contact zone open to all possibilities.” (6) Dabaji posted a range of artistic expressions on the July War. Both international and local artists’ poems, essays and artworks were uploaded onto her blog. Lebanese artist Maria Kassab’s drawings appear on Dabaji’s blog. Maria Kassab’s piece (fig.1) Insanity has with commonalities to other local artists’ work in approach, medium, expression, message and motif. Like other Lebanese artists Kassab incorporated handwritten text into her monochromatic expressionistic drawing. And, she was not the only artist to illustrate a screaming portrait.
Fig.1 Maria Kassab, Insanity
Artists such as Laure Ghorayeb and Mazen Kerbaj also depict screaming portraits on their individual blogs. Laure Ghorayeb’s piece (fig. 2) September 3, 2006, which translates to read, “Hey Edvard Munch I’m happy. Suddenly I feel the need to shout. We found our ‘scream’ of Munch that was stolen in 2004.” While with up reached arms, Mazen Kerbaj pleads, “Enough” in his piece (fig. 3) July 16, 2006 as his son, stands witness. Ghorayeb and Kerbaj documented personal accounts of the July War on a daily basis. This diary-like attribute of an individual blog lent itself to nature of the July War. As catastrophes were frequent, every aspect of Lebanese life was altered on a daily basis. Both Ghorayeb and Kerbaj’s blogs archive back to July 2006 and continue to be maintained.
Fig. 2 Laure Ghorayeb, September 3, 2006
Fig. 3 Mazen Kerbaj, July 16, 2006
On Ghorayeb’s blog Witnessing (Again), her impassioned drawings frequently take on the heart-breaking perspective of Lebanese women, children and family. In Ghorayeb’s piece (fig. 4) August 15, 2006 the text translates to read, “Did the plane sleep mom?” Such portrayals were based on realities as Israeli warplanes could be heard continuously flying overhead, especially in the night.
Fig. 4 Laure Ghorayeb, August 15, 2006
Mazen Kerbaj’s blog Kerblog also derives its inspiration from the harsh realities of the July War. However, his take often has sarcastic overtones. Kerbaj’s piece (fig. 5), August 14, 2006 refers to the cluster bombs that killed and injured numerous Lebanese and stories such as that of Hassan Hammade who “…was picking oranges near his home when a bomb blasted four fingers from Hassan’s right hand and injured his stomach and shoulder.” (7) In Kerbaj’s depiction a man waves goodbye to Israeli planes with his own severed arm as a semi-destroyed sign in the foreground cheerfully reads, “Thank you for your visit”. Two Israeli pilots leisurely converse in the background as they leave the southern boarder of Lebanon, “What are we going to do tomorrow…PlayStation”. Kerbaj’s blog also indicates the trilingual potentials of the Lebanese blog. Kerbaj is just one of many Lebanese who intermingles Arabic, French and English in his online dialogue.
Fig. 5 Mazen Kerbaj, August 14, 2006
As comments flooded onto Lebanese art blogs in various languages from around the world it became evident that people are in fact participating in these online forums. From a Canadian exclaiming his participation in an anti-war protest, to an American preparing to write to his Congressman, to a journalists looking for further insight on the July War art blogs gained action-oriented responses. Such comments proved that the art blog can serve as a mechanism for change and does so one person at a time through human connections.
Lebanese artist Elyse Tabet made such connections through her individual blog (since taken offline). Her piece (fig. 6), Hurry, shows a figure hopelessly separated from her family as missiles loom overhead. Based on actual “Air strikes against four bridges on the main coastal highway linking Beirut to Syria…”(8) Tabet’s illustrations place a human face on war. One viewer of Tabet’s blog, a Jewish man, read about how she could no longer afford to pay for more online space. He upgraded her account, expressed a sincere interest in her work and his new found compassion for the Lebanese people.
Fig. 6 Elyse Tabet, Hurry
Tabet, like many Lebanese artists used blogs as both a diary and an art exhibition to document and express the events that took place in Lebanon that summer. Past examples of diaries and art have proven to be powerful humanitarian commentaries of war. Historically significant diaries such as that Ann Franks account of (WWII) and the expressionistic art works Kathe Kollwitz (the Peasant War in Southern German, WWI, WWII) illustrate the impact of an individual account of war through traditional media. However, the art blog has the potential to combine such traditional genres into the ever-expanding realm of online media. Since the blog’s inception a mere nine years prior to the July War it has proven to be an influential force. However, the art blog is still rapidly undergoing formulation and has the promise to be a far greater catalyst of change than has yet been witnessed.
As individuals such as Nayla Dabaji, Laure Ghorayeb, Mazen Kerbaj and Elyse Tabet posted art on their blogs during the July War a ceasefire did eventually go into effect on August 14, 2006. And, as Israel lifted its naval blockage of Lebanon on September 8th another dark chapter in Lebanese history was closed—sort-of. Instability continues, while in the form of car bombings. Tensions remain between Hezbollah and Israel. Though the country walks on eggshells of political and economical insecurity blogs have the capability to convey these hardships to a wealth of individuals and serve as a refuge for Lebanese artists. The art blog enabled artists, at times confined to the boundaries of Lebanon, to obtain international recognition. As Lebanese artists continue to document, communicate and commemorate the turbulent events happening in Lebanon through the art blog they play a significant role in the influential power of this online medium.
1. “Lebanon: Country Profile,” The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited, (2006): 7.
2. Chris Toensing, “Letter from Editor,” Middle East Research & Information Project, no. 240 vol. 36 (2006).
3. Xanadu. “Nafas Beirut.” A Platform for Artists Bearing Witness, http://www.xanaduart.com/nafas.html.
4. Jenna Wortham, Wired. “After 10 Years of Blogs, the Future’s Brighter Than Ever” http://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/news/2007/12/blog_anniversary
5. Othersite. “Art Amongst Rubble.” Post-war Lebanese Art, http://othersite.org/2006/12/.
6. Nayla Dabaji, THESE_DAYS_or the need to communicate_details, http://lebanonthesedays.blogspot.com/2006/08/thesedaysor-need-to-communicatedetails.html.
7. Lucy Fielder, The Christian Science Monitor. “Injuries In Lebanon Revive Bid To Ban Cluster Bombs”, http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1107/p11s01-wome.html.
8. Michael Winfrey, Common Dreams. “Bridge Bombing Paralyses Lebanon Aid Pipeline” http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0804-08.htm.
Copyright © New Media Caucus. All rights reserved.