Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Yazan Halwani, Beirut graffiti virtuoso, detained by gunmen

[Originally posted at NOW]

It hasn’t been an easy few weeks for Yazan Halwani, the artist who has, at the astonishing age of just 20, distinguished himself as arguably Beirut’s foremost graffiti talent. His striking renditions of Lebanese and Arab cultural icons from Fayrouz to Samir Kassir to Mahmoud Darwish to Ali Abdallah (a well-known homeless man who perished on Bliss St. last winter), often accompanied by intricate geometric and calligraphic embellishments, have in a short space of time been consecrated as landmarks on the city’s already-vibrant walls.

But that didn’t stop a group of philistine hooligans from inexplicably defacing two of his works in Hamra last month, erasing the faces of Darwish and Abdallah. Halwani has vowed to repaint and then cover them with acrylic glass (and, incidentally, says he would be happy to accept donations in this regard via his Facebook page).

And the thuggery continued Sunday, when a combination of hostile militiamen and armed Internal Security Forces personnel detained him, along with a television crew, for two and a half hours as they perused the journalists’ film and generally intimidated everyone, “shouting insults” and proudly “referring to themselves as ‘ze3ran’” (gangsters), according to a statement Halwani posted online.

It’s the sort of run-in with petty fascism that’s unfortunately become quite common for Beirut’s graffiti artists. (In 2012, at least three were arrested, with one, Semaan Khawam, even being charged for “disrupting public order.”) At a time when cars are exploding on a weekly basis, al-Qaeda has officially opened its first-ever local franchise, and the country’s second-largest city is in a state of near-permanent warfare, one might have thought the authorities would have more pressing concerns.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this highlight on the state of affairs for graffiti artists in Beirut. I am a big fan of Halwani's work.