A strong sculpture created by Lebanese artist
A massive explosion near the port of Beirut shook the city in August 2020. The episode, which resulted in over 200 fatalities and 6,500 wounds, happened after almost a year of demonstrations demanding an end to communal rule in Lebanon. Using the bomb’s debris, Revolution-active artist Hayat Nazer created a striking artwork that captures the country’s suffering. The statue is the most recent in a line of Revolution-inspired works that have drawn attention to the nation’s difficulties on a global scale.
Nazer was unfazed despite pro-government activists destroying a number of her artworks that she had created from recycled materials. Her drive to make work that appeals to the general public actually evolved, and it resulted in this nameless statue of a lady standing confidently at the port. Nazer hopes that with adequate financing she will be able to make a bigger, permanent monument to all those who were lost or wounded in the blast, even if the artwork has now been relocated out of worry that it would be damaged.
We had the opportunity to speak with the Lebanese designer about what inspired her to produce this cutting-edge work of art and the meaning behind this potent artwork. Click on for the exclusive conversation with My Contemporary Met.
Why did you start making these statues in the first place?
I used to work for the United Nations, but I left to pursue my artistic career because I felt the need—not the desire—to create art. Thus, I left my work sometime in 2016 or 2017. I began painting, and I sold a few pieces in a few other nations. Then, during the Revolution, I walked out into the streets on the first day, and we did what we could. However, after that, I felt like I wanted to say more and take greater action. And creating art is the best method for me to express myself.
In Martyrs Square, I observed a group of men who were protesting in favor of the regime. They arrived and tore down our tents—the tents of the protesters. And individuals had placed the destroyed tents beneath the Revolutionary Fist. Because I was unable to observe any damaged Revolutionary-era artifacts, I came up with the idea to fashion a phoenix out of the tents. They could not break us, I wished. And I desired to retaliate artistically. Additionally, I had never before in my life created any sculpture. I desperately wanted to do it but had no idea how.
Then, on the day of freedom, I woke up to find that some supporters of the state had come and set fire to the Fist of the Revolution in an effort to put a stop to our uprising. Therefore, I told myself that today should be the phoenix’s birth and ascent. I then went outside and made my way to Martyrs Square, where I began to remove the steel. Then, because it was Freedom Day and a holiday, individuals who had traveled from all around Lebanon to take part in a protest activity began questioning me about why I was removing the steel. How will you proceed?I explained to them that I hoped to create a phoenix out of it because that bird will always rise from the ashes after being burned. Then, all of a sudden, people from all across Lebanon—old, young, kids, women, and men—began assisting me create the Phoenix. Without recognizing one other’s names, people from all sects and faiths as well as from all regions worked together to aid me.
Collectively, we created the Phoenix, which the Revolution used as a major emblem. Everyone was taking photos next to it, and it received considerable attention from the media. Even foreigners came to Lebanon to take part in the Revolution and to see the Phoenix. However, some supporters of the government broke and set fire to the Phoenix a few days ago. Actually, it hurt my heart when they took the Phoenix’s head and destroyed its wings. My very first artwork was that one. Since it was so emotionally charged, many people sobbed while we were creating it, and more sobbed and contacted me when it shattered.
What methods did you use to obtain the materials for the port statue?
I immediately came to a complete halt after the boom. I ran to the streets and began bringing food, tents, mattresses, and anything else I could find to aid those who were harmed by the blast. And that’s what I did first. Then, because the houses were overrun with broken furniture and glass shards, we began cleaning the streets and people’s houses so that they could return there. So I posted a request for help on Insta. I had a large group of people join me while we renovated homes, but I did not want to discard the debris.
Can you list some of the components used to create her?
Before the blast, I had begun a statue of a woman. I had no idea why I was acting that way. Though I was. I occasionally question why I take on undertakings. I then realize why I’m doing them after I’ve already done them. Furthermore, Beirut has had numerous destructions. Since it’s not the first time, I believed that the fight should be reflected in the statue of the woman because Beirut, in my opinion, is a woman. And Beirut—who is a stunning woman—is a woman to a lot of people.
I then began building the artwork from the debris. Although I needed her to look stunning because Beirut is stunning, she also needed to convey the suffering of the people who died and those who were hurt. There was a fine line between flattering her and making Beirut look lovely. Because Beirut is so stunning, everybody wants a slice of it. And that is what happens when a woman is so attractive that everybody wants her, and it may sometimes be hurtful to her, as it was with Beirut. Her feet are made of broken glass, and her outfit is composed of copper and broken iron that I also discovered. If you look at her face, it is damaged. All of it is recycled.
Broken mirrors are another source of light reflection.
In your own words, please describe the artwork and the compositional process.
I held one hand still. She is too exhausted, and this hand is too exhausted to even lift. Her feet are also immobile, as though she is unwilling to move. The hair appears to be still moving in the wind. And, as you may remember, there was a great deal of force and pressure in the air when the explosion occurred. I so desired her hair to provide the sensation that the blast is still going on. The broken clock that I discovered in the streets had stopped at 6:08 or 6:07, which was the time of the blast, and is underneath all of stuff to the right.
Because so many of us feel like we can’t go on, I decided to include that in the statue. We are still shocked and caught in the bomb’s temporal frame; we have not recovered. Additionally, this section reflects the trauma and pain we are currently experiencing. You can see the hand raised on the left because she wishes to get up, stand up again, and have courage. Additionally the left leg. If you look at it, it appears to be slightly bent, as if she were going to walk or move to stand. And I tried to illustrate this. It’s the truth. We hurt and would like to stand up.
I initially forced her to hold a broken V-shaped mirror because I needed people to recognize themselves in the image. Sadly, the mirror in her palm cracked when bringing the sculpture to the dock. I made her carry a torch as well since on October 17 people from all around Lebanon carried them to light a large torch. So, on the first anniversary of the Revolution, I had to take the torch out of her hand after first finding the broken mirror and her carrying it. At that time, I took the light from her hands and lit a much larger flame that was also at the dock. This light symbolized the light that people from all around Lebanon held.
She was igniting the Revolutionary Torch. She had nothing in her palm when I took the torch away. We forced her to carry the Lebanese flag when someone asked me whether he might place it in her hands. The flag flew away the following day as a result of the wind. She now only has the plank of wood and appears to be holding a blade. So, in some photos, she is seen wielding a sword, others a light, some a flag, and yet others only a mirror. I adore how active it is.
What was the public’s response to the art?
So many individuals have gotten in touch with me, including those who lost loved ones in the blast, families who lost moms or kids, and some who had the same injuries on their faces. They all said they grieved when they spoke with me. They informed me that they were unable to explain how they truly felt when they first viewed this artwork. They informed me that this statue perfectly captures how they feel, saying sometimes that words cannot explain an emotion that is so profound and vast on the heart. For them, it was really traumatic.
You’ve made the choice to relocate this statue in order to safeguard the Phoenix, which was torched. Can you elaborate a little on that?
Some individuals arrived a few days earlier, torched the Phoenix, and damaged it. She now stands in for the people, their suffering, their aspirations, and everything, therefore they were quite afraid somebody would smash her. I had to take her out of the harbor as a result. However, my strategy and what people genuinely desire is to make a sizable copy of her. This one is just around three metres tall. We want to build a sizable copy that will last and serve as a monument for everybody who passed away for everybody who suffered harm—physically, psychologically, or mentally. That to do so, I need to gather money to build a monument that will last for a very long time and symbolizes the first and third largest explosions in history, both nuclear and non-nuclear.
What do you want your audience in Lebanon and elsewhere to learn from your work?
Even though I am an artist, I was unaware of the impact and significance of art prior to the Revolution. I’ve always liked art, but I used to think that I couldn’t change the world through it. I think that everyone has a mission in life and that we should try to change the world. My motivation is to change things for the better, and I believed that through art, I would not be able to do that. But this Revolution genuinely altered the course of my life.
So many people questioned me when I first began. It’s just art, they argued; let’s move on to more worthwhile activities like roadblocking and other initiatives. Very few individuals thought, „Oh, it signifies anything.“ Ah, it’s only art, you see. How will it bring about change? However, when they viewed footage from world press, they realized how effectively we had used art to spread our message throughout the globe. Okay, you made the right decision to create the artwork, they said. The only thing that remained in Martyrs Square after the state sent workers there to clear out all the tents due to COVID-19 was the sculpture. These same individuals then contacted me and informed me that they were mistaken. The only thing that continues to cry out for change is still there.
Some of the demonstrators who didn’t care about art or didn’t even know anything about it supported me create it and continued to defend the Phoenix. People who had no interest in the arts called me and said, „Let’s build it again; we can’t let them destroy us.“ For when you need us, we are available. They are those who take the photos. They also send me photos of themselves washing the Phoenix, despite the fact that it is damaged, while also attempting to fix it. These are the individuals who have no background in the arts or business. Now, they were moved by the arts.