A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

barrier art: site specific graffiti

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 21, 2007

Every evening, sometime between 9 and 11, the police set up barricades on the major streets in my neighborhood.

These aren’t concrete barricades, but metal fence barriers set in the street in such a way that they make a slalom course for passing cars.

The point, of course, is to slow the cars down, though why this is the goal mystifies me. After all, if a bomb-laden car were driving past the central bank, I would like it to speed on its explosive little way as quickly as possible. Perhaps the barriers are designed to prevent bomb-and-runs?

The main problem with these barriers is that their positioning changes with the whims of each night’s on-duty officers. Sometimes they are spaced widely enough to allow motorists to drive through easily; at others they are erratically positioned so that each turn is a wrenching, slow-to-a-crawl hairpin.

This week, the latter style has been the favored one, causing no small amount of frustrated commentary from my assorted Lebanese chauffeurs.

This makes me wish I were back in Kuwait, H said on Monday.

I hate this country, G said on Wednesday; and I really don’t have the energy to do this again, last night.

If the police remain unsympathetic to their plight, a local graffiti artist seems more understanding – if not of the driving headaches themselves, then at least of the central position that these steel barriers play in daily life here.

I’ve only seen this graffiti in one place so far – on the AUB wall, where Abd al-Aziz meets Bliss – but I’m sure it will soon surface elsewhere:

barrier-graffiti.jpg

I like to interpret this graffiti as showing the capacity of the Lebanese to find ludic possibilities in even the most constraining of circumstances.

(Of course, I got a B+ in art history in college thanks to my total inability to register formal properties – so my interpretation and the artist’s intent may be worlds apart. Feel free to super-impose your own view over mine:-).)

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6 Responses to “barrier art: site specific graffiti”

  1. Moussa said

    May i use this photo in this weeks roundup for Global Voices? with a link to this post of course.
    thanks.

  2. Of course, Moussa – and thank you!

    I’ll email you the photo directly, so you don’t have to copy & paste from the page.

  3. [...] sets up barricades on the major streets of Beirut every evening. Some are in the neighbourhood of a diamond in sunlight. “These aren’t concrete barricades,” she states, “but metal fence barriers set in the [...]

  4. I think the barrier might relate to the barriers dividing communities, not necessarily the traffic barriers.

    The pictures puts forth the idea of Bila Hudoud (No Borders/Frontiers/Boundaries). The image is of people climbing through a barrier much bigger than themselves. In real life the barriers are small enough for a human to kick over, but the idea behind them is far bigger than any one person. Crawling through the barriers is an act of resistance, but also liberation.

  5. dlatman said

    Excellent. Reminds me of the UK artist Banksy’s work on the Israeli/Palestinian barrier wall: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4748063.stm

  6. Michelle Woodward has posted an email from the trio that did this graffiti image, explaining the thinking behind their images. They say: “We wanted to revolt against having to drive slowly in zigzags just because some scared politician lives around the area!”

    Michelle’s post can be found at: http://photobeirut.typepad.com/photo_beirut/2007/11/in-march-i-star.html

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