Street Art and the ‘Right to the City’ in a Fragmented Metropolis: The Case of Beirut
In this paper, we examine how the demand of the citizens of Beirut for their ‘right to their city’ played out during the major popular uprising, which began on the 17th of October 2019. We focus on various forms of street art that had already been in place before the uprising as well as several pieces that emerged during the days following the beginning of the demonstrations. Our intent was to flesh out how drawing on the walls of the Lebanese capital manifested itself as a key activity through which people, regardless of sect and socioeconomic status, fought to improve their city and transform it into a space where leaders are corrupt-free, people’s living standards are improved, the environment is cleaner and human rights are respected. We conducted a group interview of Lebanese (street) artists to contextualize the city’s street art scene. The core materials for our study consist of 147 photographs of street art, taken during a week’s stay in Beirut in October 2019. We performed thematic narrative analysis on the material, revealing five distinct themes. All themes reflect demands for a ‘right to the city’ in nuanced ways. We fleshed them out with the use of at least one illustration per theme. While some images projected overt political slogans and art others transmitted their message in a subtler manner. We conclude that graffiti and other forms of street art are powerful means through which groups and individuals project their messages in order to assert their self-preservation and, ultimately, their ‘right to the city’ in contested urban spaces, where power differentials play out on political, social, and spatial levels.
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