So it’s day 4 in Beirut and we’ve walked all the way from Hamra to Achrafieh to go to this place that we didn’t really have much background on. It just looked really pretty on Pinterest. We get there and the building is a sight to see. It’s absolutely beautiful. We go in and voila! It’s open, it’s a museum, and to our luck there’s an exhibition going on by a Lebanese artist called Zena El Khalil called ‘Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon’. We take our brochures and we start exploring. Apparently the place is an old building previously called the Barakat building that’s been restored into an urban cultural center and museum celebrating the history of Beirut and more specifically the civil war. The idea behind Zena’s exibition is that art and culture can have a positive impact on the world and that if there is a will, there is a way to transform violence into something that generates peace. This was in the brochure and it’s what first caught my eye. “The intervention takes place in Beirut’s most iconic war-torn building… Beit Beirut is located on the former demarcation line of the city, previously called the Green Line, on what was a “no man’s land” that during the Lebanese civil war served as a partitioning line dividing the city across religious sectarian lines. due to its strategic position, this residential building was converted into a military stronghold and became a favorite hideout for snipers, turning the building itself into a killing machine.” Amazing. You can see all the destruction and bullet holes on all the walls inside the building. It’s mesmerizing, to think that you’re standing somewhere where all this had happened, and now it’s just standing there, a melancholic memorial. The feelings it brings up are so weird. Destruction, beauty and modernity all wrapped up into this place that serves as a reminder for what was and what happened. It makes you think of how cruel people and situations can be, but also of how things survive, and how life goes on, with or without you. You are that insignificant, and yet so significant at the same time. What’s also beautiful about it is that with the restoration, they’ve kept the destruction but also built a super modern museum in the middle, so you can see this juxtaposition of both the old destruction and modern architecture.
So many odd coincidences are happening nowadays and I don’t know if it’s just me who thinks too much of them or if they do actually mean something. A few days after coming back, I was driving home and my dad just sends me something out of the blue on Whatsapp; it’s an Instagram post by Zaina Khalil that says ‘Beirut is magic” and has a picture that I instantly feel is so familiar to the work I’d seen in Zaina’s exhibition. I think he just sent it because I’d been raving to all of them about Beirut ever since I came back. But it’s crazy because I hadn’t mentioned anything to him about Beit Beirut because I wanted to save all my thoughts for writing about it. I was on the traffic light and it literally just stopped me in my tracks.
Anyways, Beit Beirut is definitely one of the places worth paying a visit to when in Beirut, I actually felt so fortunate that we barely had a plan for it but ended up with such a rich cultural experience.