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A Sculpture Rising From the Ashes

In August 2020, an explosion rocked the world when 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of Beirut, Lebanon detonated. The blast was so strong that it was felt more than 150 miles away in Cyprus. The earth shook like an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.3, resulting in debris and costing lives. Due to its close proximity to the explosion, the waterfront neighborhood was basically flattened, and some of the city’s eastern crowded residential neighborhoods were devastated as well. Even miles away, windows were shattered, and the boom registered on seismographs.

Already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon is also dealing with inept leadership, a worsening economic crisis, and a 55% poverty rate. This shocking event added another blow to the country.

A wounded man making his way through the debris in the Gemmayzeh neighborhood of Beirut on Tuesday.Credit...Marwan Tahtah/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Chaos was all over as people struggled to locate their loved ones in the darkness of the night without electricity. With their hands tied, emergency workers and families were limited in what they could do until the sun rose. Hospitals that were near the blast were also in dire conditions, leaving them helpless in a moment of great need.

Outrage grew towards the government's mismanagement that allowed such atrocity to happen. Heartbroken and angry people started the hashtag that translates to “hang up the nooses” in Lebanon in retaliation. Other countries rose to aid Lebanon, including Israel, an old foe. From France, Poland, Greece and the Netherlands search and rescue units were sent to Beirut to provide search for the missing.

The offer from Israel came just over a week after the country said it had repelled an infiltration attempt by a Hezbollah squad along its northern frontier, in part by firing artillery shells into southern Lebanon.Credit...Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press

With many families that lost their homes and about 300,000 people displaced, The Lebanese Red Cross raced to set up temporary shelters with food, hygiene kits, and basic needs to house up to 1,000 families. The death count rose to over 200 people, and 6,500 others were wounded. Jumping into action, nonprofits such as the organization Impact Lebanon constructed a crowdfunding campaign to help organizations on the ground and shared information about the missing. The group donated the first $100,000 they raised to the Lebanese Red Cross. Another charity, Baytna Baytak, that provided free housing to health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic, wanted to help too, raising funds with Impact Lebanon to shelter those who have been displaced.


Artist Hayat Nazer, who is very involved in the Revolution (protests calling for an end to sectarian rule in Lebanon) reacted to the catastrophic blast by using the wreckage from the explosion to create a magnificent sculpture, marking the emotions of this historical event and fueling the flame of hope and change. Known for her latest series of sculptures inspired by the Revolution, Nazer uses upcycled materials for her artworks. One prominent sculpture she designed was a phoenix sculpture made by some tents broken by pro-government protesters. She reflected in September that,

"[People] built the Phoenix together and it became a huge symbol of the Revolution. It got a lot of attention and media coverage and everyone was taking pictures next to it—even tourists came to Lebanon to participate in the Revolution and to take pictures of the Phoenix. But a few days ago, those pro-government people broke and burnt the Phoenix. They broke its wings and stole the head of the Phoenix, which broke my heart, actually. That was the first sculpture I've ever done. Lots of people cried while we were building it because it was very emotional and lots of people cried and called me when it got broken."


Though some of her works were destroyed by pro-government activists, Nazer's determination to create art that speaks to the people only grew, motivating her to make an untitled sculpture of a woman standing at the port of Beirut after the explosion.

Before the blast, Nazer was creating a sculpture of a woman and wasn’t sure what she would do with it. Then after the event, Nazer understood why this sculpture hold importance. She knew that Beirut has been destroyed many times and was able to rise up despite the hardships. Comparing Beirut to a beautiful and broken woman, Nazer thought it would be the perfect representation.

“So I started creating the sculpture made out of the rubble. I wanted her to look beautiful because Beirut is beautiful, but she had to show the pain of those who died and of those who got injured...Beirut is so beautiful, that everyone wants a piece of Beirut. And that's what happens when a woman is so beautiful and everyone wants her and it hurts her sometimes and that's what happened to Beirut."

Following this idea of a dangerous kind of beauty, Nazer utilized broken glass for the sculpture's legs and broken metal/copper for the dress. Broken mirrors are also put in place that reflected the light.


Further describing her art, Nazer explained,

"She was lighting the torch of the Revolution... So many people have contacted me—those who lost people in the explosion, the families who lost their mothers or their children, some who have the same injury on their faces, they contacted me and they told me they cried. When they saw this sculpture, they told me that they were not able to express how they feel on the inside. Sometimes words cannot express a feeling that is so deep and enormous on the inside and they told me that this sculpture represents exactly how they feel. It was very emotional for them."

The sculpture was eventually moved because of the possibility of its destruction there. Still, Nazer is hopeful that with enough funds she'll be able to create a larger and more permanent memorial dedicated to all the people who were injured or lost in the explosion.



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