Nov 23 2020

Recovery Work Continues in Beirut Three Months After Blast

by Stephanie Siu

The Sursock Museum in Beirut, after the building’s facade has temporarily been weatherproofed using polythene sheets and plywood. Photo by Rowina BouHarb. Image via Facebook.

More than 100 days after the devastating port explosion in Beirut on August 4, the city’s cultural institutions and art community are working steadily towards recovery. 

Financial support is still needed for the Sursock Museum, which sustained heavy damage during the explosion. The institution confirmed on November 22 via a newsletter that it has raised a total of USD 674,832 from various grants, and donations from institutions and individuals. This is one-fifths of the estimated USD 3 million needed to cover reconstructions required to return the building to its original state. In the same statement, the Museum announced that the building’s façade has been temporarily waterproofed using polythene sheets and plywood, while the dusting campaign of the collection, library books, and archive has also concluded. The Museum continues to accept donations via its site for to restoration work including for its damaged artworks. The Museum hopes to reopen in late 2021, assuming funding can be secured before the end of 2020, according to a report by Artnet.

The Arab Image Foundation (AIF) team is still working towards sustainable ways to stabilize the damaged climate-controlled cool storage room that houses the institution’s collections. While physical repair work is ongoing, the team ran a comprehensive online course from October 8 to 15, providing training on collecting, preserving, digitizing and documenting cultural artefacts. Trainees of this British Council supported Jamakaneh project will proceed to collect and digitize cultural objects from Sana’a, Yemen, for the Basement Cultural Foundation

Other art spaces have also been keeping busy. Galerie Tanit’s exhibition “Today, I would like to be a Tree,” featuring murals by Abed Al-Kadiri dedicated to the late architect Jean-Marc Bonfils who was killed in the explosion, was dismantled on October 13. The works, composed of over 80 cardboards and hosted at the severely damaged gallery space, were sold out, with all proceeds going towards nonprofit Bassma for relief efforts. The Saleh Barakat Gallery, which confirmed on September 14 that it has completed the necessary rebuilding work, reopened with a solo presentation of Bassam Kahwagi’s paintings, “To Have Been Built,” on October 8. While the gallery does not have a exhibition showing at the moment, it is participating in the Abu Dhabi Art Virtual Art Fair 2020 that runs until November 26. Meanwhile, Sfeir-Semler’s upcoming show “Beirut, August 4th @ 18.08,” featuring the latest works by Marwan Rechmaoui, will run from December 3 to April 10, 2021.

While Lebanon continues to grieve for the losses from the deadly blast, the country is also faced with a spike in Covid-19 cases, overcrowded hospitals, and a collapsed economy. The seasonal heavy rains are also expected to affect the reconstruction process.  

Stephanie Siu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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