Disasters & Accidents

Art chips in to help victims of massive Beirut explosion

By Noemi Jabois

Beirut, Nov 18 (efe-epa) .- Intricate tapestries of the destroyed port of Beirut and building ruins have replaced the gowns for this fall-winter season in the workshop of Lebanese designer Hass Idriss, one of the 170 artists who have donated their works to help and support those affected by the massive explosion that took place on August 4 in the Lebanese capital.

In one of the rooms of the fashion designer’s studio is the canvas that will soon be available on ReStore, an online shop and collective initiative to raise funds for the victims of the tragedy.

Idriss has recreated the ruined port with threads to symbolize the “scars” left by the blast, work he will donate to the digital platform.

“This year is not my time and it is not my place, not even for haute couture, which is why I made what felt natural to me,” he tells Efe.

Like Idriss, dozens of sculptors, painters, designers and photographers have donated their works to the online store launched about a month ago.

ReStore was launched by a group of young people of Lebanese descent from various parts of the world after they saw how their families’ houses were damaged by the blast and how their loved ones were hurt, as the explosion killed 200 people, injured 6,500 others and left 300,000 displaced.

“Here we are witnessing this happening in our homeland and we are far away, feeling really helpless and there is sort of guilt as well, of not being there and being able to help, so here is where the question started, what can we do to help?” Laura Tabet, one of the founders, tells Efe.

After two months of intense work to create the website and collect pieces and after reaching out to a “whole plethora” of renowned fashion and furniture designers, artists, painters and sculptors willing to help Lebanon in their own way, ReStore was born.

With 173 artists and 221 works so far, some of them created especially for the initiative and dedicated to Beirut, around $85,000 have been raised, with a hope to reach $250,000, all of which is donated to NGOs operating on the ground in the Lebanese capital.

“Contributions keep coming in and now we have donations from Ai Weiwei coming in, from Conrad Shawcross, who is a British artist, and Gavin Turk,” says Tabet, noting the store will be open until the beginning of January and might be reopening for longer in the future.

Among her favourite pieces are a photograph of Arnaud Lajeunie, a sculpture by the American Haas Brothers, and “a very special” painting by her own 95-year-old grandfather, Lebanese architect Michel Harmouche, who was injured in the blast.

ReStore has also promoted a project with the non-profit organization Creatives For Lebanon, to which designers and fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Louboutin and Christian Dior have donated their works.

For Idriss, this season’s creations were like “group therapy.”

“It was not something that was planned. It is something we improvised, which is the exact opposite to how I normally work. Normally everything down to last details is drawn and written and engraved in stone and we work to get the same vision across,” he says.

But this time everything has been different, from his walks through the most affected areas to pick up a piece of wood or an abandoned jacket to put into his works, to his conviction that he is “obligated” to take advantage of his visibility to send a “message” to the world.

“It is not the time to think if it shines enough or if it makes you look thinner or taller or younger, if it looks expensive, if it fits well, if it flows beautifully, if it has a nice movement. This time it was not about that,” Idriss adds.

Accompanied by a series of photographs of unconventional models, the tapestries that are created in the workshop two floors below are not “straight”, but rather “raw and aggressive” to show how the “atmosphere got sucked, vacuumed out of the houses and then exploded back”.

“It was the time to focus on all the imperfections, all the imperfections that make us real, human and alive,” he concludes. EFE/EPA


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