I feel incredibly fortunate to have finally met Yazan Halwani, the graffiti artist whose works have gone crazy viral within these past few months. Why have they gone so viral? Well, because people love to remember and to relate, and Yazan certainly caters to that primitive need.
To elaborate, here's the story of Ali Abdallah. AUB students and Hamra locals will without a doubt already know this, but in January 2013, a homeless, mentally-ill man named Ali Abdallah passed away due to harsh weather conditions. Many took his passing to heart, especially Bliss Street's frequents. An NGO was born in response to his death, news outlets jumped to cover the misfortune, and so on. But, it seems as though the NGO has died out and the news articles are currently deep within the archives. Ali, in some sense, has become "old news" - almost forgotten.
But, Yazan, a computer engineering student at AUB, took it upon himself to keep Ali alive long, long after his death. He painted a tribute to Ali within Hamra's outskirts, so big that passers-by cannot miss it. Ali is depicted with his signature cigarette in mouth, his detached eyes, framed by Arabic calligraphy that says "tomorrow is a better day".
His murals have touched plenty, beyond the Bliss Street store vendors who would supply Ali with food and cigarettes. Indeed, while painting Ali, a taxi driver who was observing from a distance hit up a conversation with Yazan. "When I saw the mural, I was actually going to cry. Wherever you want to go to paint, I'll drop you - free of charge."
|Yazan Halwani's Tribute to Ali|
Yazan revives half-forgotten regional icons, the likes of poet Mahmoud Darwiche and the diva Fairuz - icons that have done so much for our country, but who we increasingly disregard.
"In school, I'd study Chopin, Hugo, and Monet, but little about Lebanese influencers," Yazan explains. "I felt like I needed to do something about that".
If local educational systems weren't commemorating our ancestors' efforts, then we should take it upon ourselves. Where else would children learn about Fairuz, if they weren't listening to her? Really, what incentive would there be for an artist to contribute if they pass unnoticed? The French and the American influencers will continuously make it to our school textbooks, but we're stuck in what the Lebanese love to refer to as the "underground" - basically, everyone and everything worth watching/seeing/discussing/listening to that comes out of Lebanon.
Someone needs to do the job, and I extend my sincerest thanks to Yazan Halwani, all who were before him, and all who will come after him. His efforts will not go unnoticed, and it's our job to make sure of that.
|Collaboration with German street artist Tasso|
|Ink and acrylic on canvas|
|Lebanese soldiers pick up a paintbrush and give Yazan momentary help|
|Collaboration with Ali and Zepha|
He's also on Instagram @YazanHalwani
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