‘All the names will be erased from the billboards and the theatres and the piers and the magazines and the monuments. You live by myths of immortality, and your myths are not safe.’
― Robert Montgomery
© Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved
The heat outside is sweltering, even near seven p.m., but inside the art gallery’s thick stone walls it is quiet and cool. Low classical music infuses the air. Nocturnes, but not Chopin. Natural light falls at precise, studied angles, delicately onto the canvases.
The artist has painted with oils and soft colors. The innocence is almost painful. A girl alone, but not lonely, stands on an empty planet. She looks up at an infinitely large sky, probably wishing she were there, not here. The piece is called Ici et ailleurs.
On another wall the girl in the painting is wearing a vividly red dress. She holds onto a ladder as she stretches precariously to touch the moon just beyond her reach. Décrocher la lune, wrote the artist underneath, who left but left her art here. And that fear of disappearing, being forgotten by the world, now lingering in the gallery.
Art expresses itself.
It is meant to be felt.
It is a soul poured, unfiltered, on a wall. Man has been drawing, painting, engraving, leaving marks on walls for 40,000 years.
In a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, at least 35,400 years ago, one of the first humans with a ‘higher order consciousness’ painted a babirusa: a pig-deer. The artist used a red, berry-colored paint, not unlike the red of the girl’s dress, and imagination and symbolism to construct an image of something he or she had once seen.
A pig on a wall meant that man could now think of the future, remember the past. It meant that man could now look at himself and realize he was finite. Art meant communication, of emotions and abstract thoughts. Art meant another man millennia later could understand how he felt.
The gallery door opens onto the sidewalk and a traffic jam on Gouraud Street. Angry car horns ricochet off the buildings; August rush hour in Beirut. On those same walls bullets once ricocheted too; they are still ridden with the holes. Some are filled with fragments that glisten and shimmer when the sunlight hits them right. They were made by boys who died for causes that have disappeared. You live by myths of immortality. Slivers encrusted into the walls.
Graffiti landscapes created by artists from memory or dream. Meant to shock, anger, soothe, make strangers stop, laugh wryly, maybe think. A date carved over the entrance of a building, declaring: 1932. Initials drawn with love struck fingers, engulfed in a lopsided heart, forever marked by history, hardened on a patch of cement.
Past the walls of the cathedral, its mosaics tainting the light hues of orange, blue, red, green. Past the whitewashed walls of the school and the hospital bearing their builders’ illustrious names. The first alley to the right leads to a staircase whose steps are uneven and steep. It snakes up and narrowly between the pale and peeling pistachio walls of old buildings.
At the very top, finally, a soft breeze. The sun is lower on the horizon now. It floods the sky, the sea with colors. Art expresses itself. On the final step you pull out a cheap, lightly chewed ballpoint pen. Blue. On the wall at eye level you draw a small flag. I next to you: a butterfly.
We were here. This is art. We leave it there, on the wall, turn around and race down the stairs to Gouraud Street where the honking has died down.
 Here and there