"I'm in tears." "I was shivering." “My chair flew just above the ground.” "There is no right to dream." "Bitter feelings." "the end of the world."
These are some of the brief and harrowing testimonies from survivors of the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, which are now publicly displayed on the streets of the Lebanese capital as part of the scripted installation Beirut Narratives. The installation was designed by Lebanese sisters, architects, and co-founders of Architecture et Mécanismes, Celine, and Tatiana Stephan.
Unlike many young professionals who hope to emigrate or have already left the country in search of better opportunities abroad, Celine and Tatiana have decided to stay in their homeland for the time being, for better or for worse.
In recent months, the two girls have turned their attention to the buildings and spaces in the Gemmayzeh, Karantina, and Mar Mikhael neighborhoods, which were damaged and stood empty in the aftermath of the explosion. In a commemorative way, these silent and neglected buildings are given their own voice.
That's why the Stephan sisters collected testimonies from a variety of people, including friends, family, firefighters, and health care workers, all of whom were releasing pent-up anger and grief and were willing to share their experiences of that horrific day. Children also contributed drawings to the project.
Divided into three categories—Descriptions, Emotions, and Reflections—the testimonies were written in red, black, and white paint by spraying on pieces of brown jute, later transformed by sewing into bold textures or "shards." According to Stephens, who sprayed and sewed, the use of jute was deliberate, as it is accessible and serves as a reminder of the perennial material used to transport wheat to the silos in the port of Beirut.
The two sisters and their collaborator, Lebanese-Danish creative consultant Mira Hawa, head to various locations, hanging the shrapnel in person, which in itself is a risky undertaking.
For the Stephans family, it was an emotional and healing experience. “We sat with these people, we talked to them, we cried, we heard every story. I still get goosebumps now,” Celine said.