A month after the August 4th, 2020 explosion, a fire started at the port which triggered instantaneous trauma and anxiety for most of Beirut's population. After things calmed down, I chose to walk down to the port in order to take a few pictures. People were triggered, my friends and family had been calling me, and texting me to make sure I was alright, and it resulted in the phone running out of battery not 10 minutes after I had arrived. I opened my laptop and plugged in the phone charging cable, but it took way too long so instead, I used my laptop’s camera with the thermal effect to take more pictures. The dark cloud of ash filling the sky turned into neon colours that made the scene somewhat more bearable. A crimson red sky bothered by miscellaneous yellow, and green smoke with seeping hints of turquoise.

Thermal cameras detect temperature by recognizing and capturing different levels of infrared light. The temperatures of the bodies present in the photo collided with the surrounding objects and buildings, separating them from the intruder in the image, the port and the smoke, or the grain silos, that the lens deemed a different alien element. Witnessing this view of the port on fire, taken through the laptop’s thermal effect, resulted in images that seemed less emotional, less personal to me, and these images helped me distance myself from the trauma that is so interconnected with the realistic images of the port blast that are being circulated in the media.

I’m livid that I can’t grow in a space that’s molding over me instead of around me. Because I am exhausted, I have become more solemn than angry. Solemn because the consequences of unforgivable neglect have led to our tactical surroundings to no longer exist. Physical spaces that remind us of emotional spaces that we now need to carry, without support, without infrastructure, and without an end in sight. When the physical space causes you pain, harm, and trauma you forget about the fond experiences that come with them as well. This pattern of trauma is an intrusive act that has taken physical and emotional space. A space presented here as purgatory in neon.
”يا لبنان، هل حبي لك لا يعرف حدود؟” [Oh Lebanon, does my love for you hold no bounds?]

The past two years in Lebanon have been filled with outrage, loss, struggle and disillusionment. The ongoing economic and political crisis, the oligarchy, the 4th of August blast and the rising socio-geographical tensions have manifested themselves as symptoms of a diseased system that is holding its citizens hostage and trapped. It is in this perspective that I conceived "Forbidden Dream حلم ممنوع" as an interactive digital collage landscape poem. 

The artwork documents my journey of love and disappointment in the homeland. It tackles notions of memory and yearning for a past that has disappeared and the future of Lebanon without corruption. The attachment to the land is another central point with specific memories from my childhood and early adulthood emerging before and after 2019. The places and spaces I lived in, saw, played in, grew-up in and cherished. The land is the root of this love. Yet, it becomes clear that Lebanon is decomposing. Both country and land are violated by the oligarchs, who make their people suffer in their own homes. The promises made of reconstruction and perseverance have been broken. The state that governs is failing and falling.

The collages are made from watercolour on paper and pictures that I took in different cities and villages, such as "Beit Chabeb" (my village of origin), "Dhour El Choeir," "Beirut" (where my family home is located) and "Zarrour" amongst others. They are in essence the memory of my experiences of joy and sadness throughout my country. Through the interactive channel, I hope that the work will provide an intimate engagement between the viewer and  the textual/pictorial landscape. The architecture is non-linear mirroring life, with its unexpected turns, and its challenges. The paths that are taken are never clear, and the world we know might change at any moment. No notice is given.

The Arabic and the English texts differ slightly as the languages are different and have their own individuality, which the author wanted to preserve. Some things are lost and gained in translation. The text and the images are not separate, rather, they are interwoven layers, autonomous and yet part of the totality. The themes are, love, loss, dream, translations, memory and ultimately: hope.
Ayeesha Starkey is a graduate of Media and Communications and a filmmaker based between Beirut & London. She has worked in the fields of visual arts, and production, specifically video editing, content creation, and script writing. Ayeesha lived in Dubai for 16 years and draws most of her inspiration from the cultural contrast she has inherited from living in between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. After working with BBC Studios, in London, on Doctor Who, BBC Planet, and Top Gear, she found herself increasingly drawn to the arts and entertainment industry. Most recently she wrote and directed a short film, “بنزين” (Benzine) or petrol in Arabic in 2020. The short film approaches Lebanon’s heated political and economic climate in a satirical manner. Ayeesha combines her passions and expertise today in production to explore fashion-films and theatre. The scope of her work has recently diversified to include being a fixer for foreign correspondents, film photography and branding.
Danielle Andrea Krikorian studied Studio Art and Art History at the American University of Beirut (AUB-2018). Krikorian completed an MA in Art History from the University College London (UCL-2021). She has worked as an archival researcher, art critic and curatorial intern in France, London and Lebanon. Her articles have been published in TheDailyStar (Lebanon) and in The Radical Art Review (UK). They delve into art and the socio-geographical impact of culture. She is currently an art gallery manager in Beirut. Her artworks have been exhibited at CUB Gallery (Beirut) and at the 2018 Beirut Art Fair. Her practice engages with the visualisation of trauma, memory and the androgynous body.
reACT is an innovative program, established by P21 Gallery to promote and support emerging and student artists whose work is dedicated to or inspired by the Middle East & Arab world by providing a space within the P21 Gallery and/or P21 Gallery website for an artistic intervention.
reACT aims to contribute in building and strengthening cultural ties and dialogues between the East and West on terms designed by a younger generation.
Mishelle Brito is a London based artistic programmer and curator working to create dialogues relating to societal concerns in the Middle East through art, culture and creative based methods.
P21 is an independent London-based charitable trust established to promote contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art and culture.
For further information, press images and interview opportunities, please contact reACT Programme Manager & Curator, Mishelle Brito at: reACT@p21.org.uk
Website created by Maciek Stępniewski, 2021.