Twenty artists to govern Lebanon differently …
Since the formation of a new government has been dragging on for months, l'Orient-Le Jour decided to propose a cabinet of artists from all backgrounds – a cultural dream team of sorts – hoping it will inspire anyone and everyone. Because everything is political, starting with arts and culture.
President of the Council of Ministers : Zoukak Theatre Company
Zoukak’s members come from an array of religious and professional backgrounds, working together seamlessly and non hierarchically. The group is closely connected to the everyday realities of Lebanese life, drawing inspiration from the dreams, aspirations and follies of normal people. It also partners with NGOs to put on psychosocial support workshops for vulnerable populations. It’s a unique model that has gained increasing attention and praise since the theatre company was created in 2006.
Ministry of National Defense : Mashrou’ Leila
When Mashrou’ Leila formed, the group did not intend to speak out for gay rights or combat what lead singer Hamed Sinno sees as the West’s simplistic view of the Arab world. The goal was to make music, and the group’s unique blend of alternative rock and Arabic poetry propelled them to become one of the Middle East’s most famous bands. But along the way, simply by being who they are, Mashrou’ Leila ended up taking a stand and defending it fiercely.
Ministry of Culture : Hanan Hajj Ali
Hanan Hajj Ali knows the international theatre world inside out and has played an important role in bringing critical and popular theatre to Lebanon. She’s a playwright, actress and cultural activist involved in encouraging cross cultural and creative exchange in the Arab world through her work with the NGO Al Mawred Al Thaqafy. But her greatest accomplishment is a pamphlet she wrote and which defines the cultural politics of a country. The right woman at the right place ...
Ministry of Tourism : Hisham Jaber
Jaber is the man behind the cabaret shows Hichik Bichik, Nana Discotheque and Bar Farouk, as well as a number of excellent parody plays. His synthesis of traditional entertainment styles and contemporary tastes makes him an ideal choice for minister of tourism. As this talented director strongly states: "It is now that we have fun, that we celebrate, that we dance and sing, despite the scenery and the same old tune."
Ministry of the Displaced : Ayman Baalbaki
From Adaisseh to Tel el-Zaatar and Wadi Abu Jamil to Beirut’s southern suburbs, Ayman Baalbaki has relocated and moved constantly throughout his life. His paintings and art installations depict people fleeing massacres, war and indiscriminate shelling, captured in small, personal details: a mattresses strapped to the roof of a car; two jerry cans, one for gasoline and one for water; kitchen utensils; even sheep and chickens. His work is clearly an effort to rebuild what politics has destroyed.
Ministry of Finance : Hady Sy
Hady Sy is trustworthy – a much needed quality during these dark economic times. In his photography, he has displayed an understanding of the importance of currency. His work titled Sifr (zero in Arabic) depicts a zero dollar bill emblazoned with Arabic script and a Persian figure in place of an American president. Hady’s mother is Lebanese, but like all Lebanese women, she was prohibited from passing on her citizenship to her son. This law will no doubt be one of the first to change when the cabinet of 20 artists takes office.
Ministry of Industry : Marc Baroud
A multidisciplinary architect and designer, Marc Baroud does everything from designing luxury products and furniture to corporate building projects. He graduated from ALBA University with a degree in furniture and interior design and also studied industrial design in Paris. Baroud’s work is impeccably researched, and he regularly experiments with new techniques and materials while also incorporating traditional craftwork even for industrial projects.
Ministry of Social Affairs : Zeina Daccache
The Lebanese people, just like their leaders, are in desperate need of good drama therapy, and Zeina Deccache knows how to pull it off. Formerly a comedian, Daccache now devotes her time to creating art about socially and economically marginalized people in Lebanon. Famous for working with women in Roumieh prison to stage her play “12 Angry Lebanese”, she has a good chance by being heard by the 4 million Lebanese who are prisoners of the precarious situation in the country.
Ministry of Health : Lina Saneh
After hearing that hospitals burn limbs and organs that are removed from patients, Lina Saneh decided to set up the Appendix Project to virtually sell parts of her body as works of art. She turned her own body into a place of struggle, a battlefield between the promises of freedom and modernity and the forces of identity and community that try to make their own value systems universal.
Ministry of Urban Planning : Marwan Rechmaoui
After starting his career as a painter, Marwan Rechmaoui has shifted to installation art with a strong focus on Beirut’s urban planning. He often uses concrete, rubber, tar and sheet metal as materials and has created two emblematic works: a concrete sculpture of the infamous Murr tower and a map of Beirut made of black rubber. Rechmaoui’s art explores “social behavior in the urban space,” he says. It reminds and encourages us to reflect on the way that conflict shapes urban space.
Ministry of Public Works : Yazan Halwani
Yazan Halwani has been developing his unique blend of portrait art, Arabic calligraphy and oriental geometry since 2010. His street art depictions of Sabah, Fairuz, the heroes of West Beirut, Mahmoud Darwish and others turn the weather-worn, concrete walls of Beirut and many other cities into poetic canvases for surreal paintings. "Lebanon is not a hotel that we change at the slightest issue, but a cause to defend,” says Halwani, who takes up that cause in his art.
Ministry of Women's Rights : Iman Humaydan Younes
"I will keep on writing about women in patriarchal societies, as well as the violence this patriarchy generates," says Iman Humaydan Younes. She is the author of four novels that have been translated into several languages, and her most recent book, “Fifty Grams of Paradise”, received the 2016 Katara Award. Humaydan Younes’ work mainly focuses on women, the memory of individuals and places, and the experience of violence. It emphasises women’s voices through emotional and sensitive portraits that are also full of irony, humor and poetry.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs : Nadine Labaki
Success has not only turned director, screenwriter and actress Nadine Labaki into a spokesperson for the Lebanese, but also for people whose voices aren’t often heard. Her latest film, “Capernaum”, won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. "It is a cry of pain and desperation that I address to the Lebanese authorities, and I tell them: ‘It is time for the government to wake up,’” said Labaki. "Lebanon is tired of being treated as a third-world country when we have a very rich potential and the huge capacity to think about solutions." She would be a perfect candidate for the Bustros Palace.
Ministry of Education : Nadine Touma
An artist, cultural activist, producer and educator, Nadine Touma has designed several educational curricula that incorporate art, science, design, human rights, anthropology and literature. Since 1997, she has been working with governmental organizations and NGOs to introduce innovative methods of thinking and teaching in Lebanese classrooms. Her originality and outside the box thinking make her an ideal candidate for this position.
Ministry of Youth and Sports : Zena el-Khalil
Dynamic, straightforward, rebellious, daring, idealistic and full of promise, Zena el-Khalil would be a perfect minister of youth and sports. She’s the daughter of May el-Khalil, founder of the Beirut marathon, and has participated in many races wearing a pink wedding dress as a protest against the social pressures put on single women. El-Khalil is also the author of the memoir “Beirut, I love you.”
Ministry of Information : Mireille Honein
Mireille Honein is a rebel who creates art against all odds, defying community, religious, social and marital restrictions. She a sculptor, committed feminist and strong advocate for freedom. Among her various works, she created a paper wedding dress as a protest against rape. "I will go so far as to twist the standards of beauty so that my work is at the service of my cause,” she says.
Ministry of Telecommunications : Sarah Zeaiter
Better known as Blogger Wannabe, Sarah Zeaiter has mastered the art of using technology to communicate. She dissects Instagram posts and offers social commentary through funny, candid videos. What better candidate could there be for this position than someone who understands the importance of a fast and affordable internet network?
Ministry of Labour : Alexandre Paulikevitch
Alexandre Paulikevitch’s artistic philosophy has three pillars: history, genre and a political sense on the body in artistic representation. This baladi dancer’s long and courageous struggle to impose his mark on a genre ruled by stereotypes more than qualifies him for this office. "Even on my knees and mutilated, I continue to dance," he said.
Minister of the Environment : Karen Chekerdjian
Karen Chekerdjian is a stand out figure in Lebanon’s design scene and is often invited to major design fairs abroad. She’s known for producing contemporary furniture and objects that are inspired by the forms, patterns and materials of traditional craftsmanship. Design is like breathing, she says. And she would bring a breath of fresh air for Lebanon’s polluted environment.
(The original French version of this article was first published in L'Orient-Le Jour on November the 14th)