DUBAI: The victims of the Beirut Port blast will always be “seen and remembered” thanks to a memorial wall of more than 200 portraits drawn by an American artist.
Beirut-based visual journalist and artist Brady Black was inspired to portray the victims of the deadly explosion from Aug. 4, 2020, after he witnessed their beloved families and relatives mourn their tragic deaths.
Since the world’s third most powerful non-nuclear explosion took place, the victims’ families and relatives have been protesting outside the Beirut Port holding up photos of their beloved ones to demand justice.
Based in Lebanon since he arrived with his wife in 2015, Black approached an art institute called ‘Art of Change’ in Beirut to collaborate on a creative project and commemorate the victims.
Black spent nearly four months drawing black and white portraits of the 220 victims. Each portrait is around 10 square feet and portrays an image of each victim.
“All I can do is hope that it’s received in the way it was intended to be and it is helping them in some way,” he told Arab News.
So far, Black said the feedback has been positive and encouraging: “I have heard a lot of the families expressing great appreciation for the work.”
The blast at the government-owned Port of Beirut claimed the lives of 220 people, injured more than 6,500, and left 300,000 homeless. The explosion resulted from a fire in a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate and caused damage worth an estimated $3 billion.
On the 4th day of every month since the explosion, the victims’ families gather to protest and hold up pictures of the loved ones they lost. Black witnessed several of these gatherings, which inspired him to do the project.
“It looked to me like they were saying ‘See them … remember them.’ So I decided to basically do what they were doing, which was holding their loved ones’ pictures up for others to see,” Black said. “But I’m doing it in a permanent and very visible way.”
Art of Change played a vital role in the project, Black said.
“The actual installation took only a few hours with 40 volunteers who all came together to put the whole thing up,” he said. “We needed a few more days for the final touches.”
Art of Change is an art institute and creative hub that collaborates with artists and was co-founded by Jason Camp and Imane Assaf in Beirut.
“The 220 victims’ portraits were set up on a memorial wall to commemorate them in Al Saifi area, which is a few meters away from the blast spot,” Assaf, the hub’s director, told Arab News.
“On Aug. 4, to mark the one-year anniversary of the explosion, families came to check the memorial wall and they placed flowers. It was so emotional and powerful.”
She said they have collaborated with Black on similar projects involving the poor and needy as photos were posted in areas like Hamra, Manara, and others.
For this particular project, Black said he appreciated the feedback but was not emotionally prepared to speak with victims’ families.
“It felt really encouraging being able to be a small part of helping their voices be heard,” he said.