Beirut, I Love You

That’s the title of a memoir by Zena El Khalil, the artist who became world famous for her blogging during the 2006 July War, but is more known locally for art works like running the Beirut Marathon every year in a pink wedding dress and talking to people as she goes about their loves and lives.

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Zena also made a jaw dropping work that I just bumped into months later when the book was written (hard to ignore as it drew the biggest crowd at London’s Art13 fair). It’s a rotating 4 metre rendering of the word Allah in arabic script with the title “A’ Salaam Alaykum: Peace Be Upon You” made out of Disco Ball mirror tiles and accompanied by disco music. I really wanted to interview Zena for the book but didn’t manage to track her down, so here is a video of her talking about this artwork.

Why Zena came to mind today is I had a rush of affection and nostalgia for Beirut while writing out the addresses to mail out books to all the people who helped or were interviews subjects. The addresses in Istanbul, Amman, Dubai and even in more far flung places like Jakarta have that American convention that is a bit like the Dewey library classification – turning the world into a numerical grid. But then you come to addresses in Beirut that are so much more grounded in humanity and community – more like giving street directions – for instance the magazine that Warren now writes for is “Behind Bank Audi”. Yes it’s a bit chaotic, but so is the city, so is life, and it’s better for being a bit less gridded and more spirited? Beirut I love you, indeed.

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