Beirut's Art Scene Devastated By Explosion

BY Ayesha Sohail Shehmir Shaikh / Aug 9 2020 / 16:00 PM

The widespread damage caused by the recent blast has left the city’s cultural scene broken

Beirut's Art Scene Devastated By Explosion
A view of Sfeir-Semler Gallery after the explosion. Courtesy of @sfeirsemlergallery

After leaving thousands wounded and homeless, the effects of the tragic blast which occurred in Beirut on Tuesday are far-reaching.

Sending shockwaves throughout the streets, a cloud of citywide red smoke into the sky and drastically blowing out windows, the explosion has left citizens and the rest of the world speechless. The roads are filled with broken glass and piles of debris remain scattered throughout the city, as residents work to clean up the aftermath of the blast five days after the incident occurred.

Modern and contemporary art museum Sursock Museum, officially known as the Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Mark Hachem Gallery, Marfa Gallery, Galerie Tanit, ARTLAB and Opera Gallery’s Beirut outpost are a few that have been impacted by the incident – some gallery owners say the damage caused to the properties may be irreversible.

"For the past two days, we've been trying to collect our thoughts; assess the damage," Sursock Museum wrote on Instagram. "It's hard to process what we've all been going through. But like everyone who's been impacted by this tragic catastrophe, we have no choice but to move forward; to rebuild what was destroyed."

The bustling night-time hotspot Mar Mikhaël, a stone’s throw from the explosion site, established itself as a home for several galleries. Here, the night before the explosion occured, contemporary art space Galerie Tanit hosted an early preview of solo exhibition Remains of the Last Red Rose by Lebanese artist Abed Al Kadiri. The gallery was completely destroyed in the blast.

Non-profit contemporary art gallery Marfa, built in 2015 as a bridge between Lebanon and the world, has also been severely impacted. The interior has tragically collapsed leaving the artworks exposed to damage. 

Designer boutiques, showrooms and studio spaces have also been severely impacted.

Above: an installation view of Remains of the Last Red Rose by Abed Al Kadiri at Galerie Tanit before the explosion

Sfeir-Semler Gallery, situated in the Karantina district east of the port, has been an integral part of Beirut’s art scene since 2005, showcasing the work of globally renowned Lebanese artists by the likes of Walid Raad, Etel Adnan, Yto Barrada and Akram Zaatari. The blast tore off the wall panels and shattered the windows.

"Our hearts are full of sorrow and we mourn for Beirut," wrote Sfeir-Semler Gallery on Instagram. "Thanks to all who thought of us, sent a message, a note or a sign." Luckily, no lives were lost.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case for Letitia Gallery, whose director Gaia Foudolian did not survive the explosion. Architect Jean-Marc Bonfils, designer of the building Galerie Tanit is located in, also passed away.

While the search for missing victims continues, president Michel Aoun has given 100 billion Lebanese pounds from this year’s budget for emergency recovery. A national day of mourning was declared on wednesday by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

After the rippling effects of COVID-19, the ongoing economic crisis which has now worsened, the protests and the tragic explosions with many lives lost, Lebanon’s resilience is being tested more than ever, which begs the question: will the city we love so much ever be the same?

Stay tuned for more updates.