October 18, 2022
Twelve years in the making, the immersive and interactive “Allo, Beirut?” exhibition opened at Beit Beirut on September 15, 2022 in a carnival-like atmosphere with eclectic performances, free street food, and over 1200 people in attendance. Check out the opening day recap video above.
The Neighborhood Initiative at the American University of Beirut, led by Mona El Hallak, implemented the production phase of this grand project, which was funded by IREX.
“Allo, Beirut?” brings together art, journalism, and culture to take a look at Beirut from the “golden age” of the 1960s up through the current tumultuous period that includes the popular uprising of October 2019, the economic meltdown, port explosion, and subsequent mass emigration.
It all began when journalist Delphine Darmency entered the famous Caves du Roy nightclub in the once glamorous Excelsior Hotel, both abandoned since the civil war. The images, artifacts, and stories she found under the rubble, and the research she did to find more about the owner Prosper Gay-Para over the period of ten years, led to this multi-media, multi-modal, and multi-artist exploration of what Beirut means, then and now.
Everything to do with the exhibition was painstakingly researched and ten artists, eight of whom are women, were invited by the artistic director and curator Roy Dib to submit new contemporary artworks commissioned especially for the “Allo, Beirut?” exhibition. These include audio and video installations, photographic series, and reconstructions of historical places and artifacts. Many ask for the general public to become part of the exhibit by contributing a story, identifying an old photograph, or contributing personal photos and videos. The exhibition team included 147 professionals from all disciplines as well as artisans and craftsmen.
Several of the exhibits also speak to the historical significance of the venue, which lies on the old “Green Line” demarcating East and West Beirut. This once-palatial building was used by snipers during the civil war and bears many battle scars. One poetic audio installation is set inside the snipers’ bunker and features the artist addressing a poem to her mother, who while pregnant with her was almost hit by a sniper while crossing the Green Line.
A central theme of the exhibition and attendant activations revolves around Les Caves du Roy owner Prosper Gay-Para, a visionary and activist who decried the poor governance and corruption of the political classes at the time and proposed many reforms. On opening day and the week prior, Clown Me In, a group of performance artists, drove to different neighborhoods in Beirut elaborately costumed as Prosper, his wife Medea – dressed in a triple decker cake that she actually wore for their 25th anniversary – and other characters from Les Caves Du Roy, riding a truck decked out as the famous nightclub. Check out a video here: https://youtu.be/l267Owc2BR8.
You can also check out Sabah from a 1965 TV show singing the song Hully Dabke Yaba Oof, one of the songs Clown Me In performed around Beirut: https://youtu.be/sQojfBZ0ok8
Peruse the photo gallery here (AUB site) or check out the allobeirutexhibition.com website. But if you are in the city between now and the end of June 2023, you simply must visit “Allo, Beirut?” in person for an unforgettable experience (Wed-Sun, 12pm to 8pm at Beit Beirut on Damascus Road near Sodeco Square).