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Accepted Paper:

Graffiti in Beirut: Imagining Alternative Realities  
Lara Sabra (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines the affective and agentive power of graffiti in Beirut after the Beirut port explosion in August 2020. Enchanting passers-by and engendering solidarity, these graffiti enact a refusal to accept a certain reality and a will to imagine another.

Paper long abstract:

The period following the August 4 Beirut port explosion in 2020 was marked by an atmosphere filled with extreme anger and vengeance. The most popular repeated slogan from that time was “hang the noose”: a collective expression of the desire to take revenge from the regime responsible for the explosion. It was repeated in the streets as a protest chant, drawn in the dust of destroyed car windows, and spray-painted on the walls of Martyrs’ Square.

As the months progressed and the momentum from the initial anger-filled protests dissipated, the phrases filling the city streets changed in their nature, meaning, and affective power. The anger was replaced by expressions of melancholy and loss, or poetic and subtle aspirations of hope. This paper will study the agentive and affective power of graffiti that emerged in public urban space following the August 4 explosion.

I draw on testimonies from activists and civilians, ethnographic photography, and participant-observation in political mobilizations to argue that graffiti represents but also intervenes in relationships of power. By considering the way in which opposition groups and individuals use graffiti to present/amplify their own narratives and voices, the paper reveals how graffiti functions as a creative process that transgresses hegemonic ideas and values. Further, through examining the enchantment or affective hold of graffiti on passers-by, the paper studies how this aesthetic process creates an urban solidarity engendered by lived experience and shared emotion. In this way, these writings on the walls enact a refusal to accept a certain reality and a will to imagine another.

Panel P004a
(Re)claiming Spaces of Hope and Inspiration: Protest and Revolutionary Aesthetics I
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -