Artists take a stand in Lebanon’s peaceful uprising

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Nour Al-Thawra, a candlelight manifestation led by Mariana Wehbe and Sara Beydoun in Beirut (Supplied)
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Graffiti by Lebanese artist. (Supplied)
Updated 18 November 2019

Artists take a stand in Lebanon’s peaceful uprising

  • What blankets the walls of the ongoing 'revolution' in Beirut and other cities is art
  • For the protesters, public art is a means of communicating their political message

BEIRUT: Cries were heard in the town of Khaldeh, south of Beirut, on the night of Nov. 12. They were different from the sounds that have become the background noise of the Lebanese Revolution.

A soldier had killed Alaa Abou Fakher, a local official from the Progressive Socialist Party headed by Walid Jumblatt, a political leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, marking the third death in 27 consecutive days of protests.

The killing has escalated tensions that were already running high amid a nationwide protest movement that started off as a reaction to proposed new taxes before morphing into a veritable “people power” movement.

Protesters are demanding changes to Lebanon’s sectarian system of government, calls that have prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and will likely lead to more departures.

Meanwhile, what blankets the revolution’s walls of Martyrs’ Square; the ring (the tunnel linking west Beirut to east Beirut); the ESCWA (the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia) boundary wall; the area next to Parliament; throughout Tripoli; and in countless other places is another form of protest: Art.

“The art we were trying to express has documented almost all the incidents of the revolution so far, day by day,” said Said Fouad Mahmoud, a graffiti artist who has been practicing for 11 years. “Some people are good with speech, others with song, and we raise our voices with drawings. I drew pictures of the moments that affected me the most: The role of the female in the revolution; the guy cleaning with one leg; and the first day of the revolution, with the flag and the fire.”




Graffiti by Farah N Hamdan. (Supplied)

Many of the progressive-graffiti-laden walls fall under the umbrella of Iman Nasreddine Assaf’s Art of Change initiative, which she founded in May in partnership with local Beirut-based NGO Ahla Fawda and UK-based Where There’s Walls.

“Our purpose is to promote urban art to more than just the graffiti scene in order to spread important messages throughout the community,” said Assaf. “Our revolution walls are in support of, and part of, the demonstration and revolution. They are expressing people’s pain and demands and the impact has been strong. Art is the international language that touches all.”

Art has emerged as a favored medium of the revolutionaries to convey their political message. To this end, Art of Thawra (Art of Revolution), an Instagram page, is collecting and showcasing relevant artworks produced during the 2019 protests.

VIEW OUR GALLERY: Lebanon's revolution walls

“There’s been a drastic increase in street art during this revolution,” said Mahmoud. “People are trying to send messages through their paintings. The art indicates how civilized people have been during the protests and how peaceful the revolution has been until now. I hope it will remain peaceful until the end. If it does, then it means art played a major role in this revolution because art is peace in itself.”

Lebanon’s contemporary art community has issued numerous statements regarding the closures of spaces, programs and exhibitions as artists, curators, and gallerists participate in protests for non-sectarian unity. Beirut’s art community had just assembled for the Home Works event when the protests began on Oct. 17.

The message from the organizers, Ashkal Alwan, postponing the event stated: “Artistic and cultural institutions and initiatives are in no way isolated from broader civic, political, economic, and ideological context but rather shaped as a result of and in response to historical events and their repercussions.”

On Oct. 25 the Beirut Art Center sent out a similar statement: “In solidarity with and participation in the popular uprisings taking place across Lebanon against the current systems of power, we the undersigned cultural organizations and structures collectively commit to Open Strike, and call for our colleagues in the cultural sector to join us.”

Another artistic expression of solidarity is visible at leading Lebanese art dealer Saleh Barakat’s space in the Clemenceau area of Beirut. On Nov. 8 he opened a show featuring an installation by Palestinian Beirut-based artist Abdul Rahman Katanani.




Graffiti by Said Fouad Mahmoud. (Supplied)

A series of temporary abodes made using painted scrap metal and wood, and surrounded by barbed wire — much like the surroundings of the Sabra refugee camp where the artist lives — were stationed throughout the gallery.

Katanani’s immersive and precarious installation, on view until Jan. 4, asks the question: What future awaits Lebanon?

“Many are now trying to figure out a good balance between getting their work done and participating in the public upheaval,” said Basel Dalloul, founder and director of the Dalloul Foundation. “Cultural production in all its forms can and will be one of the economic drivers of a future Lebanon.”

Ayman Baalbaki, one of Lebanon’s most recognized painters, “is not involved in creating art right now,” said Barakat. “He is going to all of the protests and is completely involved in the need for political change.”

The design duo David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem, whose studio goes by the name David/Nicolas, said in a statement: “What’s happening today is very important for all of us Lebanese who would like a brighter and honest future where corruption is not surrounding us.

“We are trying to work but it is not easy. Right now we are focused on how we can help our country.

“On the other hand, creativity is stronger because the revolution gives you such a push.




An installation by artist Abdul Rahman Katanani at Beirut's Saleh Barakat Gallery. (Supplied)

"Most places are closed and open spontaneously. Thank goodness for social media, so that we can show what we are doing to the world.” 

Marwan Sahmarani, a Lebanese painter known for his bold abstract canvases replete with their gestural brushstrokes and vibrant coloring, noted the difficulty of working during a time of turmoil.

“It’s a disturbing moment for everyone,” he said. “There are many feelings, good and bad. I divide my time when needed between my studio and the street. But what do I paint that can be relevant now and not fall into a journalistic rendering of current events?”

Individuals in the creative scene have joined hands in camaraderie to produce several initiatives in solidarity with the protesters. One is Nour Al-Thawra, staged by Sara Beydoun, founder of Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise Sara’s Bag, and her friend Mariana Wehbe.

On the evening of Nov. 6, a group of Lebanese women gathered in Martyrs' Square, each carrying a lighted candle. “Let’s light a candle for the strength we have shown and the resilience that will never die,” wrote Beydoun on her Instagram account. “Bring a candle and your peaceful prayer and let’s combine all of our strengths to light up Martyrs’ Square.”

Beydon told Arab News: “We all want one thing — the Lebanon we dream of.”

Wehbe agreed. “Sarah and I have been on the ground since day one,” she said. “Like every Lebanese woman from this revolution, each one of us is trying to find her way to help, support and move this forward.”

The candle-bearing crowd of women, which the pair turned into a moving video that went viral, was driven by the need to create a “peaceful symbolic prayer.”

“It was a prayer for our country, for our future, for unity, no matter where you come from and what your religious beliefs are,” said Wehbe. “It is a symbol of unity and protection for love, compassion and for our home, Lebanon.”

 


Lebanon’s coronavirus crisis spurs race to tackle looming ventilator shortage

Updated 42 min 31 sec ago

Lebanon’s coronavirus crisis spurs race to tackle looming ventilator shortage

  • Multiple teams of engineers take up the challenge to fabricate prototype of life-saving machine
  • Many Middle East countries stand to benefit if efforts to build affordable units are successful

DUBAI: As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, many countries are finding themselves in dire need of a machine that until now was used to support the odd patient with severe respiratory conditions.
In the Middle East, the problem is especially acute given the region’s history of conflict, instability and weak governance.
Buying ventilators in large numbers (at a rate of $25,000 per unit) was never a priority for governments with long, pressing to-do lists.
But now, suddenly, across the Arab region people face a choice between waiting and watching, or doing something on their own before coronavirus cases overwhelm their country’s health system.
In Lebanon, several groups of people have taken the second option. Their objective is straightforward: To build an affordable ventilator, a machine that mechanically assists a patient in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide by a process of artificial respiration.

 

 One of the initiatives is the brainchild of Dr. Hussein Al-Hajj Hassan, 30, who launched a Facebook drive to create an artificial ventilator entitled “A Breather for All Lebanon.”
Together with two alumni of the Lebanese University’s Faculty of Engineering, Hisham Issa and Hussein Hamdan, both engineers currently working abroad, Hassan has made it his mission to manufacture the machine.
“We might not be capable of serving everyone in hospitals, but there’s a possibility of manufacturing the machine here,” Hassan, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering from IMT Atlantique in France, told Arab News.
“So we conducted a study on the expertise we needed, whose results I posted on my Facebook page. The post went viral and people started calling me.”


To ensure its suitability for use by hospitals, the ventilator will be fabricated as per the specifications contained in a nine-page document issued by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“We’re working to meet the MHRA specifications,” Hassan said. “We’re working in an incremental way, setting milestones and going forward toward each of them.”
According to the three engineers, although their ventilator is now in an advanced stage of development, they are struggling with the lack of availability of key components in Lebanon.
“If you want a perfect medical device, you need medical equipment, which isn’t available here, so we’re trying to find alternatives,” said Hassan.
Once the team has fabricated a successful prototype, ramping up production to meet the shortage of ventilators should not be a problem, he added. “What’s important is that the prototype meets all the requirements,” he said.
Hassan believes the Arab region is aware of the dangers of a shortage of ventilators at this time, pointing to countries such as Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria and others that have contacted him.

Employees of a private company spray sanitising liquid around a bank in a bid to limit the spread of the cornonavirus Covid-19, in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

“It’s nice to see that people are aware,” he said. “Lebanese people are skilled and full of energy. This, coupled with their determination, will enable them to achieve their goal.”
Another Lebanese innovator who is not counting on divine providence is Jad Berro, who said it became obvious to him about two weeks ago that the coronavirus pandemic was not going to spare Lebanon.
He began working in mid-March on a prototype of a basic automated bag valve mask.
“Lacking enough medical information at the time on mechanical ventilation, the general thought was that something simple could solve the imminent problem of ventilator shortage,” he told Arab News.

FASTFACT

800,000

Number of ventilators needed globally

“I make a living out of making products and prototypes, so we had a basic ventilator running (within a few days). This was a record by any standards.”
Elaborating on the contraption, Berro said: “The prototype can control the tidal volume, breaths per minute and the inhale-to-exhale ratio, with monitoring of excess pressure and internal self-tests to guarantee that the mechanism is functioning normally at all times.” But the functions are “very basic” and cannot be a replacement for a ventilator, he admits. 
Berro said he halted production out of “ethical and moral concerns” as using it would have meant hooking patients to a device that had not been properly tested and did not offer any guarantee it would work for extended periods of time.
“What’s needed is a unified basic design that’s proven and tested, after which it might be possible to actually manufacture the machine,” he said.

Employees of a Lebanese public health company pose with their protective gear on in Beirut March 24, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“Numbers in Lebanon show that we have close to around 600 ventilators. The absolute worst-case surge requirement would be around 2,800. The crisis is global and the deficiencies are the same worldwide.”
It is estimated that worldwide, about 10 percent of patients with COVID-19 infection need ventilators.
Reports say about 880,000 more ventilators will be needed to deal with the demand caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Berro said efforts are being made to technologically enable one ventilator to service multiple patients of similar lung capacities.
“As global manufacturers are gearing up production of ventilators and medical devices, we can expect a slight relief,” he added.

FASTFACT

10%

Percentage of COVID-19 patients who need ventilators

“China seems to have successfully flattened the curve and might be able to send ventilators and medical supplies to other parts of the globe. A used ventilator is certainly better than a makeshift one.”
Another Lebanese ventilator prototype has been unveiled by MP Nehmat Frem two weeks after he initiated a project in collaboration with a group of specialized engineers and doctors.
The machine, targeted for use in intensive care units (ICUs) in Lebanese hospitals, is being built to high specifications, incorporating the latest technological features developed by Phoenix Co., an affiliate of Lebanon’s INDEVCO Industrial Group.
“We decided to fight with all our means in Lebanon,” said Frem, who is also the group CEO. “We wouldn’t have accepted the prospect of dying without doing anything, so we decided to put in all our efforts and strength, and it’s starting to yield results.”
Clinical trials of the ventilators are estimated very soon, he said, adding that plans are simultaneously afoot to manufacture face masks.


“We still need some progress on the human-to-machine interface, which is the design,” he told Arab News.
“We’re fabricating the most complicated version of the ventilator — that is, the one used in ICUs.”
Phoenix Co.’s project had kicked off with a six-hour briefing by doctors, which was followed by the creation of a small taskforce comprising doctors, suppliers and biomedical engineers.
The challenge for Lebanon and other Arab countries, according to Frem, will be in purchasing material used to build ventilators in the needed quantities.
“I presume the coronavirus crisis will add stress on suppliers in Europe, the US and the Far East,” he said.
“So we’re now in sourcing mode — to locate what’s available, starting with our main suppliers.”
Frem feels Lebanon is not prepared for a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases, noting that at the current rate, “we’ll have big numbers in 50 days, which is worrying.”
Nevertheless, “it’s encouraging to see the fantastic work of startups and engineers,” he said. “We have to get rid of this ‘can’t do’ attitude in the Middle East once and for all. We’ll never surrender.”
Berro offered a similar take on the looming ventilator shortage amid the regional coronavirus crisis.
“Arabs survive on imports in times of prosperity as well as in times of crises,” he said. “This isn’t acceptable and needs to change.”

FACTOID

$25,000

The approximate cost of a ventilator