The Lebanese artist discusses how he transformed his art space — Galerie Tanit, which was damaged during the devastating explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4 — into an open canvas, on which he created his 80-panel mural.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day of the explosion: I remember it from an emotional perspective more than a visual one. But if I wanted to give this day a color it would be yellow, because of the light and dust. As Lebanese, we’ve faced a lot of violent circumstances, but at least from my side I’ve never experienced such painful images around me.
“Today, I Would Like To Be A Tree” is a sentence I used in the middle of the pandemic. During lockdown in Beirut, we weren’t allowed to drive or go out between specific times. Suddenly, the world that we knew was no longer the same.
I started a ritual. At the peak of my anxiety and suffocation, I would go to a place that’s surrounded by a lot of trees, and I would sit there for a few hours. I felt I was getting back to nature, which has an ability to heal and absorb our aggression or pain.
I started doing a pencil drawing of a tree on a big canvas and I felt how great it would be if I just transformed into a tree. It was a real wish — not just a metaphor. I totally forgot about this drawing until the explosion.
Days and nights passed in which I was going to the gallery to save the artworks. At night, we could not sleep, thinking of the people who lost their houses. We lost our friend, the gallery’s architect Jean-Marc Bonfils. You start to have this guilty feeling: I survived but they didn’t.
One night, this image came to my mind: I saw the gallery filled with my paintings representing trees. With friends, we started putting the cartons on the gallery’s two remaining walls.
Somehow, the mural represents all the windows that were broken in Beirut. From these segments, we can create this huge puzzle that people can buy in pieces, raising money and supporting people in Beirut. Each person will have a part of this major representation of, or reaction to, what happened.