Producing Art in Times of Crisis

You’ve either lived it or heard of it. It is impossible to avoid. It rears its head in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night, and its message is loud and clear: trauma. In “Trauma and psychoanalysis: Freud, Bion, and Mitchell,” C. Fred Alford writes that trauma is the manifestation of both the psyche and the interventions of the outside world into the internal[1] . Unfortunately, the external world in which you live has weakened you and your scarred psyche manifests itself in perpetuity.

You can still hear the shattering of the glass, the screams and the cries of your fellow citizens. Your legs shook, your arms were broken, your noise bled, and your ceiling literally fell on your head. It was a bomb that exploded in your home, in your city, in your country. Your Beirut was destroyed on the 4th of August 2020 and nothing has ever made sense since. With it, crumbled the heart of a nation. Family, friends, and acquaintances were either gone, hurt, homeless and emotionally destroyed. We took to the streets with our message loud and clear: no more. They left us more bleeding and broken than before with tear gas, fireworks and bullets. Those blaring sounds are deafening and are imprinted on your mind and memory.        

However, history does not deign to register that it had happened before. Your parents and grandparents lived the war and you were born into a country that wasn’t theirs and wasn’t yours. The national history books have left those periods blank. The pages are inexistent from 1949 to 1991.[2] Their void has left more than a gap unresolved. The culprit is of course those despondent militia groups trading people as commodities and the country as a misused chessboard. 

Have you given up? no.

Neither has the city.

Nor should you, and the fight can be fought by producing. There is of course the inevitability of survival guilt and depression in these terrifying times. That is perfectly normal. If you can, you must find it within yourself to face those feelings. The channelling of experiences, art-making and of the art process is personal and can be helpful in showcasing those everyday moments. There is no one way or medium to create with. 

How to produce and how to start? Beirut isn’t re-built in a day and neither will your project be. Brainstorming and writing your main concerns, challenges, your message, your thoughts, your fears, your goals, your outline, colour palettes can be useful. If you hunger to capture the crisis affecting, deciphering and writing down the triggers and your reactions can help. Perhaps that way, you can try embodying them visually and materially. Whether it’s sounds, the streets, the broken ceiling, the soaring living prices, write it down, take pictures and/or sketch. 

Researching is helpful for knowledge and inspiration. If there are theories, philosophies, aesthetic ideas, media coverage and techniques available to you than it is honestly the best way to go. If your project involves numbers or historical events, you need to be aware of them even if you won’t necessarily use them as is. For example, a lot of history books have been made about the Lebanese war, and there are written accounts that involve the slow degradation of the Lebanese economy. Urban maps, photographs and accounts of current events are available. 

Something else to think about is medium, and that is unfortunately tricky when those aforementioned soaring prices are hindering your ability to work. It is not pleasant to write about, but the reality is that nothing in Lebanon is politely pleasant anymore. Some paints are cheaper than others, oils are typically more expensive than acrylic paints that are more expensive than gouache. Some paper and canvas are more expensive than others depending on size and quality. There are certain brands that cost more than others and as horrible as that may seem if cutting up on some brand prices can help then do it.  Furthermore, if you can buy in bulk or bigger sizes (that are typically more cost-effective) then do it. Some stores are also less expensive than others and that maybe something to look into. Whatever it is that you are obliged to do in order to create, please do not feel ashamed. Do it. 

If you’re aching to take pictures but don’t own a professional camera then starting with a phone camera or a disposable camera is a good way to start while you save up. The trick is how you present your work. If your images are not of the highest quality than make sure the content is interesting and corresponds to this lack. Perhaps you’re retracing blurred memories, or it is a statement to the country’s economic and political crisis. Don’t let it stand in your way, own it. 

Art has made a lot of bad, and it has made a tremendous amount of good. The journey is long, and the message for freedom from those treacherous beasts is alive. The narration of trauma and memory is crucial both for a people and for a nation. Without archive building and art-making there is no history to trial them against. More pressingly, there is no starting anew.

Good luck and Godspeed. 

[1] C. Fred Alford, “Trauma and psychoanalysis: Freud, Bion, and Mitchell,” Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 23, no.1 (2018): 44.

[2] Wahib Abi Fadel, Lebanon during its great historical stages (Lebanon: Antoine, 2008).