What is “public space” in Lebanon?
According to Walid Sadek, “public space” in Lebanon is purely an ideal: a frequently offered but impossible solution to many of the problems that beset Lebanese society. Public space presupposes citizenship, central authority, and the rule of law. In a state incapable of defending anything, the concept is useless as we try to work out how myriad groups can coexist along the criss-cross lines of such a confused social and political geography. The historic Green Line that divided East and West Beirut during the 1975 to 1990 civil war – now set to become a grass covered cycling space – is just one example.Sadek’s starting point is not “post-war society” but that Lebanon is living a “protracted civil war” where violence is necessary to maintain the political status quo – i.e. the logic of civil war. He also dismissed “Trauma Theory” as another linguistic trap which has little to do with society’s continued inability to live together in a present controlled by the past.
Art as catharsis
Not so said Monika Borgmann for whom trauma is the heart of the problem. The language defying nature of pain means a traumatized society cannot speak. Borgmann’s work uses art to give individuals a collective voice where cultural production is a form of art therapy. UMAM’s Missing exhibition project collaborated with the families of hundreds of missing people whose passport photo faces toured the country for over a year. Finally, Borgmann talked about the potential of Beit Beirut, long billed as a ‘Museum of Memory’, for civic remembrance – and relief.