Murals are usually a capture of a certain idea or person painted on the walls and streets. In Lebanon, there is a city called Hamra that was once the hub of art and culture. After Lebanon’s Civil War which ended in 1990, it never quite got this atmosphere back, making the citizens of Lebanon feel a slide in their Arabic identity.
Yazan Halwani, a Lebanese street artist from Beirut, combines calligraphy, geometry and portraits, in his quest to freely express his Arabic culture.
As his artistic work revolves around calligraphy, he has devised a way to strip Arabic words of their meaning and has chosen instead to focus on the shape of the words themselves. This way, his paintings are made up of pixel-like shapes that form the image of a face, creating an image that is embraced by the Arabic culture.
Yazan makes sure he creates art to “grow with the city not against it” by considering the context around the wall: people, history and city. So what better place is there to choose than the building ‘Heart of Hamra’?
Before the war, the legendary ‘Horseshoe Cafe’ brought together artists, poets and writers, such as the famous Nizar Qabbani and Paul Guiragossian! This literary cafe was indeed the heart of Hamra, and Yazan beautifully recaptured this heart with an image of Sabah, the well-loved Lebanese singer and actor, may she rest in peace.
Yazan chose this wall to paint the mural of Sabah, calling it Eternal Sabah. But why Sabah? Yazan told the Guardian that “I decided to paint her to create that sense of nostalgia and positivity for the people living there. It kind of reinforced the sense of culture that used to exist.” He also chose her because of how she challenged the norms of society. Yazan believes that, today, we should all do as Sabah, “I think we need to take Sabah’s drive in modern society, break taboos when need be and not be held by norms.”