The Secret Life of Beirut’s Walls

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When living in a city, one would take for granted the chaotic beauty that come with it like: the tall buildings, the various noises that all together just sounds like noise garbage, the students trying to make their way around the streets, the shop owners stacking up their merchandise in hopes of making a good sale that day and the late business men that have abused their honks when stuck in traffic. But what most people overlook are the things nearest to them and in the case of Beirut, it’s the graffiti. Ever since graffiti first started, many thought that it is an individual’s act of rebellion against their government and city. They thought that it takes away from the city’s beauty and it ruins its image. When in reality, graffiti only adds to the city’s beauty. And people like the author of Urban Scrolls and Modern-Day Oracles: The Secret Life of Beirut’s Walls, Rasha Salti, consider graffiti as an act of voicing an opinion.

Rasha Salti is an independent curator and freelance writer based in Beirut (After Words: A reader for academic writing, p. 142). She had this article published in the Third Text in 2008. In her article “The Secret Life of Beirut’s Walls”, she starts off with a short story that is based on a discussion between two people about what disappearance is and how it happens. Then she goes on to talk about how Democracy, which is the American influence on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti war, is making its way into the Middle East. Also, how civil wars in Lebanon were thought to have “ended” when the Israelis and Palestinians stopped the conflicts and negotiated for peace. Basically, insinuating that a change was about to occur because wall graffiti has changed dramatically with the outbreak of the civil wars. The walls became the newspapers.

While walking through the streets of Beirut, Rasha’s attention was caught when she saw the phrase: “On n’est pas n’es sous la même étoile.” When translated, it roughly means: “We are not born under the same star.” She has also fallen under the category of the hundreds of people that walk up and down the same street every day yet wouldn’t notice if such a quote was there. However, the reason to why she was flabbergasted was because it’s a French quote that she had never seen anywhere else in the city before. It was in an area near AUB (American University of Beirut) and the borders of another area called Ain el-Mreisseh; both of which were not known to be “French” areas. Which she argues has either of these meanings: 1. “We were not born to the same privileges;” 2. “Our destinies are not meant to meet.”

The quote was special in the sense that it wasn’t a political logo, slogan, or the overly common “X love Y” plastered all over the city’s walls (p. 144). However, it was just an area reclaimed for someone’s personal grief (p.144). And that even if it wasn’t meant to have a deep story to it or if it wasn’t meant to be humble, it showed a different side of what was mostly hung there; it showed change. This is because most of these walls helped to identify different religious communities or areas that were set by the state by the act of hanging up different posters of political leaders and election nominees. Only because anything written on walls was evidence or confirmation on stone and concrete, they are meant to be permanent (p. 145).

One would underestimate the powers of something as simple as a wall but what they often forget is that these walls expose the more spontaneous, unrehearsed opinion of an amorphous mass of folks, or neighbourhood residents; a visa into a place in the present time (p. 145). To some people, graffiti is a reminder of the past, a realisation of the present, and an outlook onto the future. So, the next time you happen to pass by any graffiti just remember that every picture has a story of origin and explanation; they are there for a reason. Therefore, you shouldn’t judge at first glance.

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