Since anti-government protests began in Lebanon on October 17, 2019, art has developed as a means of protest. Urban art has spread across the walls in unison with the voices on the streets of different Lebanese cities. This is the case of Batool Jacob who, together with a group of artists from Tripoli, have started to make urban works of art together and who continues to draw from his home while the country begins the stages of lack of confidence.
Last October, when the Lebanese government wanted to implement a tax on the WhatsApp call service and other social networks, thousands of Lebanese went out to protest in different cities. For them, this measure disproportionately affected the poor majority. Although the government ended withdrawing the measure, the protests continued, denouncing political corruption and the sectarian system that establishes the fixed quotas of seats granted to each religious confession in the country, the consequences of the economic crisis, as well as the defense of the rights of women and solidarity with other peoples such as Syrians. The government fell on October 29, but when a new government was formed in January 2020, there were new protests. Since the protests began, the government has detained more than 450 people, many of whom reported having been tortured.
The leading role in the protests has meant that the city of Tripoli and its northern area, which is mostly Muslim, was represented in the media, as there was previously a lack of coverage. It has also helped to erase stereotypes related to poverty and to begin to highlight its artists, spokespersons, youth and the unity of its people. In this context, an interview was made with Batool Jacob, a self-taught artist, which was edited by size.
Marta Closa Valero: Multiple works by Lebanese artists can be found on social networks connected with the protests, such as the artistic space of “Art of change ”In Beirut. Also in Tripoli have you started with this type of protest art, how has this movement emerged?
Batool Jacob: The street art It is a new technique for me, the first job was in January together with my friends Ghiath Al Robih, a Syrian Palestinian artist living in Tripoli, and Nagham Abboud, also a three-pole artist. It is interesting since it is the first time in the city that a group of artists come together with the same objective, to show the revolution and fight for freedom of expression, before each area of the city towards its exhibitions but there was no unity.
MCV: What was the reason for doing the first work together, what did you want to show?
BJ: The work was mostly Giath's idea, it consisted of a 3D drawing on the ground of the square of the revolution in Tripoli. We represent the Lebanese pound falling into the abyss. It is a simplified way of showing what we are really experiencing, we are losing the value of the state currency without the government doing anything to save the situation.
MCV: Individually and with the group, what are the main themes that you want to transmit with your works?
BJ: Our main topic is the revolution, showing how people are oppressed and the harsh conditions we live in, the Lebanese government does not provide us with basic rights. For this reason, as artists we seek to do something that cannot be underestimated, which records the demands of the protests and ensures that our voices are heard. We do not want our right to express ourselves to be lost, we have the responsibility to do everything possible to express our message.
MCV: Considering that the street is a masculinized space, you have felt that it is more difficult to make works of street art being a woman?
BJ: Being a woman and wanting to do street art or any other artistic discipline that involves performing on the street is more difficult as a woman. Within Lebanese society there are multiple mentalities and there is oppression towards women. Society thinks of women only at home, cooking and taking care of children, in this way our options diminish considerably. It is this mentality that does not accept a woman on the street drawing or performing another artistic discipline such as dance. As a woman, you are allowed to do the works in your house and then take them to a gallery, since there are no negative consequences because there is no public exhibition. When it translates to developing street art, there is indeed a public exhibition and therefore you can experience negative situations, lewd eyes, intimidation and a bad opinion of you. This leads many women to not want to make the leap to urban art. Despite these aspects, I would like to give courage to all Lebanese women to take to the streets and carry their skills with them.
MCV: In recent weeks there have been protests in Tripoli again. Which Has this been the reason for the protests and what is your position as an artist activist?
BJ: The latest protests have come about as a result of the rapid growth in the cost of living, the prices of basic products have increased a lot. People no longer have anything else to lose, so they are projecting their anger towards the banks, since they are at the top of the institutions that rob the citizens. Personally I do not think that this reaction is favorable to recover our money, I believe in the union of the entire Lebanese population to put pressure on the government and stifle this chaos.
MCV: Seeing the current situation in Lebanon, what is your position regarding the future?
BJ: The current situation does not make me have good vibes for the future, I want to have hope but reality shows us that the situation is getting worse. The emergence of COVID-19 and people's lack of awareness of taking preventive measures can further worsen the situation. Despite this, I wish Lebanon freedom and stability, with my art I will continue to do my best to help raise awareness and convey the messages of our protests.