Description: Public Space Invaders by Joost Janmaat
"Beirut is an exclusive city. Driving around Solidaire, downtown Beirut, in your airconditioned SUV, gently rolling past the sidewalks, windowshopping from behind your dark-tainted car windows, from behind your expensive sun glasses, you will probably indulge in feeling rather special. Not too many people get the chance of driving around the carefully reconstructed streets of Solidaire, or shopping in its many exclusive boutiques. Then, if you happen to live in the suburbs down south you might feel equally special; Israel’s relentless bombing campaigns on Beirut almost exclusively targeted Haret Hreik, the mostly illegal sprawl of high-rise settlements home to Lebanon’s large Shi’a community. And if you happen to run a kiosk in the middle of Sassine Square, the hilltop crossroads in eastern Beirut, you will again be experiencing exclusivity; especially since the Pierre Gemayel assassination, the area once again is the heartland of the red-crossed Phalangists. Solidaire, Haret Hreik, Sassine; all are very much exclusive places. Exclusive on the basis of class, and identity politics.
And that is only the physical space, the city. The exclusive space extends far beyond the realm of enforced concrete and asphalt. In Lebanon, allmost everything has an exclusive nature: politics is organized along strict sectarian divides; primary, secondary and advanced education is perfectly possible in a secluded, exclusive environment; even memory and history is dealt with in exclusivity.
Together with the people we had met during the event, we set out to challenge the exclusivity and reclaim the streets and squares around the city. Armed with a bag of cans of spray paint and a stencil sign reading ‘ PUBLIC SPACE’ in Beirut’s three leading languages, we went out the night after the funeral ceremony for Pierre Gemayel. In Dahiye, we didn’t dare venture. At Sassine, we were welcomed by the middle-aged lady running the kiosk on the square though send away by an old man who was sure we were sent by General Aioun’s people, the rival Christian faction. Hamra and Gemayzzeh were easily reclaimed though. And the piece de resistance, the piece on the Martyr’s Square statue, was put there after a short talk with the soldiers guarding Beirut’s most public - yet recently claimed by Gemayel’s supporters with banners and flags - place. The soldiers, who had gathered in the streets of Beirut in massive numbers, must have perceived ‘public space’ has something rather hostile those days. In some weird logical, on that night the soldiers guarding the public places and the engaged vandalists reclaiming places for public use somehow were there protecting the same; an open society, inclusive to anyone, exclusive to no-one."