Banana Republic

Yazan Halwani - The Banana Republic

A politician, obviously by definition, is a person who is involved in politics. Looking back at history, anyone would notice the change in the morals that come with politics because back then politicians actually had an agenda of bettering a certain sector or country, disregarding any personal benefit. However, recently a politician is anyone who practices politics only for personal gain in life or society, examples: To achieve more money, to become or to have a higher power, to be influential upon a large quantity of people or assets and the list goes on. We, as the people who are witnessing this dramatic change, have tried to open each other’s eyes to the reality behind these “political movements” and what their real agenda is. People like Yazan Halwani are doing exactly that. Yazan, who is just 20 years old, is a graffiti God to anyone who knows his art. Ever since a young age, approximately 16 years old, Yazan developed the skill of calligraphy, which was taught to him by his uncle.

“Joumhouriyat Al Mouz” is Yazan’s most famous and controversial graffiti piece that can be found in the heart of Beirut, Lebanon. If I were to describe this piece it would go something like this: A monkey wearing a suit and tie surrounded by Arabic calligraphy language. Now, it’s not the monkey in the suit that catches your eye, but it is the sentences that are intensified, drawn and highlighted to stand out. One of those sentences is the piece’s title which when translated means “Banana Republic” (Most people would associate that title with the clothing line. However, it has a completely different meaning) and the other is a quote. The Arabic calligraphy language surrounding the monkey is a clear indicator that Yazan is focusing on the Arab culture. Moving on to the quote, which was from the golden age of Lebanon, belongs to a famous writer named Jibran Khalil Jibran who said, “If Lebanon wasn’t my country, I would choose Lebanon to be my country.” Now the interesting part is that Yazan did not quote him exactly, his version goes like this, “If Lebanon wasn’t my country, I would choose Canada to be my country.” After studying this artwork, the only question that lingered in my head was “Why?”

Now in my opinion, these are the answers to my question: The monkey, often associated as a primitive animal, is a symbol, let’s say, for any politician around the world, but mostly in Lebanon, who has the intellectual capacity of zero when it comes to politics. Hence why the monkey is formally dressed and perceived as a “politician”. What Yazan is trying to show his fans is that authors like Jibran, along with the majority of the Lebanese people, love their country but dislike “the monkeys in the suits.” Because at the end of the day, monkeys in their simplest forms are wild animals that don’t have a sense of laws or rules; only a sense of personal gain and survival. That is something that is commonly found between both the monkeys and the politicians.

To end this observation, I think that Yazan is a part of an important movement. A movement that is willing to go above and beyond in order for their voices to be heard or in his case: to be seen. Before my research about this, I had no clue about the background of this graffiti piece although I probably walked past it a thousand times. This leads me to the fact that we, as humans, are curious creatures. However, we tend to get too comfortable in where we are to feed our inner curiosity. Therefore, it is important to ask “Why?” to certain things in order to open not only our eyes but also our perception of what things really mean and how influential they are.

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