Let’s talk about it. That is the simple message the Lebanese-Polish architects and sisters Tessa and Tara Sakhi are hoping to convey through their poignant installation running until November 21, in parallel with the Venice Architecture Biennale. “Letters from Beirut” is a six-meter wall of 2,000 handwritten letters. They reveal personal thoughts of survivors from the Beirut Port blast in August 2020, which claimed over 200 lives.
To start afresh, the sisters — co-founders of the design and architecture firm T Sakhi —decided to move to Venice. The more time they spent there, the more similarities they recognized between the historical centers of Beirut and Venice in terms of their open Mediterranean culture, housing layouts, and proximity to water. “We feel that maybe now we can give much more to Lebanon from outside and hopefully one day we will eventually come back,” said Tessa.
To bring their project to life, the sisters set up an online platform, inviting civilians to share their messages, which would later be written out by Tessa and Tara on pieces of recycled paper. The letters — in Arabic, English and French — contain grief, anger, resistance, and stories of love.
The pouches were donated by the UAE-based Irthi Contemporary Craft Council, a heritage-preserving organization that advocates female empowerment socially and economically. Made of felt, the pouches were created by 37 Emirati craftswomen living in Sharjah. Their skilled manner of hand weaving, adhering to similar techniques utilized for producing baskets, is native to their culture. Three Emirati female university students were also involved in producing the recycled pieces of paper.
“Letters from Beirut” is meant to be an interactive and uniting memorial, where biennale visitors can take a pouch until they all disappear from the wall. In a way, this engagement enables the victims’ voices to be heard and remembered around the world.