Cover photo Alain Sauma
In a poetics that transcends existential boundaries, over the centuries art has increasingly acquired the ability to make different forms of expression coexist in order to narrate contents that can involve people in an experience in which there are no barriers, in which the universality of human creativity can bring cultures, thoughts, emotions, visions, lives closer together.
This is what I perceived when I learned about the installation created by designers Tara and Tessa Sakhi, founders of the design and architecture studio T Sakhi, in parallel to the Architecture Biennale inaugurated on May 22 in Venice. “Letters from Beirut” on display until November 21 in the Marinaressa Gardens, is a work that lights up many shades of the heart, which seeks to sublimate, tell and help a country, Lebanon, through care, empathy , dialogue, solidarity, the feeling that through sincere human exchange there is nothing that cannot be overcome.
It is a “wall of thoughts”, a 6-meter linear wall that puts sociality back at the center, the feeling of being close to the light of the dramatic vicissitudes that have struck a country that has been in great difficulty for some time, a country in which hope and solidarity must become the daily nectar from which to draw in order to find the impetus to continue building together a brilliant future.
Throughout history, the wall has always represented the concretization of the darkest and most destructive part of the human being. It was used as a weapon to control, segregate communities, cities and towns. It is the reflection of the inner barriers that are placed in the illusion of feeling safe, of warding off the threat, when in reality they create deep and indelible wounds first of all within us. Yet, despite its inherently negative connotation, the wall is inevitably the main element of creativity in architecture. So from a wall that divides, Tara and Tessa have transformed it into a wall that creates connection, which unites:
“Feeling that we are living in an era where authentic ties are replaced by constant virtual connectivity, we have collected 2,000 letters from Lebanese citizens who experienced the explosion that took place in the port of Beirut last year firsthand and in which they decided to share feelings and thoughts with strangers. These letters were placed inside the 2,000 pouches that shape this wall. At the bottom of each letter they put their email address so that people who read their words can respond. Inside each pouches there is also a seed – a universal symbol of rebirth – to be planted and grown. Our desire is to continue the dialogue to rebuild the future of Lebanon and to restore our collective memory ”.
As the pouches are pulled out of people, the wall begins to disintegrate and eventually disappear. A metaphor to allude that through communication and exchange everything can be overcome. The pouches are a work in themselves of rare and extraordinary artisan beauty. In collaboration with the Irthi Contemporary Craft Council, they were handmade, with recycled and sustainable felt sewn in silver Zari thread and lined in linen, by 37 Emirati artisans of the Bidwa Social Development Program in Sharjah. The process carried out by the artisans incorporates a weaving technique inspired by one of the traditional hand weaving patterns used in “Safeefah”, a traditional Emirati palm frond weaving craft, which uses techniques similar to basket making. In this project, the artisans created a contemporary pattern for the felt pouches, inspired by the “Sayr Yaay” technique, replacing the palm fronds with recycled felt. The Bidwa program, founded in 2016 by the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, was created to professionally train and develop Emirati women who practice indigenous crafts, so that they are able to generate sustainable income and achieve socio-economic emancipation.
The letters, on the other hand, were made with hand-made recycled paper by university students Mariam Abdulkarim, Amal Al Hammadi and Zainab Adel involved as a graduation project.
The seeds to plant are coriander, courgettes and green beans, all edible plants used in Lebanese cuisine. Each bag is scented with a stimulating natural fragrance evocative of the flora of Lebanon; Cedar, Pine, Gennet, Thyme or Jasmine.
Touch the letter paper, smell the scents of a country so close to each of us, connect with those who are experiencing something that we could not even remotely imagine but that brings us all back to a shared daily struggle, to continue to hope, to continue to believe together we can overcome anything.
“We love to find out how people interact with this type of installation. They take pictures, take the letters, frame them at home or are taken by other artists and used to make other works. It is so overwhelming and moving to see how people create something using our work. We like to see the longevity of the project. It is not something you can only see now and then it disappears. It continues over time and remains “.
Designed both to inspire and raise charitable funds to support various sectors focusing on healthcare, infrastructure, education, and livelihoods post the 4th of August blast in Beirut, the installation will further allow visitors to donate to one of the following NGOs through a QR code:
Bank to School Initiative by Arcenciel, supporting children’s education.
Beirut Heritage Initiative, an independent inclusive collective striving to restore and preserve Beirut’s architectural and cultural heritage.
Beb w Shebbek, an NGO rebuilding doors and windows of more than 80,000 destroyed homes after Beirut’s 4th of August explosion.
Salam Beirut Initiative by The Big Heart Foundation, raising funds for various sectors: Healthcare (reconstructing and providing medical equipment in St George’s Hospital Emergency and Trauma Unit), Safety and Protection (developing and supporting mental and psychological health), Livelihoods (youth employment), and Education (strengthening online & offline educational systems).