Installation piece resisting privatization heads to Ramlet al-Baida

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Beirutis swim around the al-Daliyeh area which is already threatened by private real estate interests. Getty Images

By: Roy Dib

Published Saturday, November 8, 2014

On November 5, Syrian architect and music producer Ahmad Khouja set up a wooden arch on Ramlet al-Baida beach in Beirut. The structure Khouja designed with the help of Abdel Rahman Hamoud is made up of a wooden boxes setup inspired by arch-building techniques. Some boxes have lights illuminating the arch and the space around it. Other boxes have loudspeakers. All you have to do is go to Ramlet al-Baida with a phone and connect it to the art installation via bluetooth and you will be able to play the music you want as your contribution to the Beirut “Open Channel” project.

Khouja presented the project, produced with support from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), Assabil, Nahnoo and Green Line, for the first time in Horsh Beirut, a pine forest park that is only accessible with a permit. The installation, therefore, was on display in an area that is not accessible to everyone. That is why Khouja wanted to transfer it from Horsh Beirut to a public space that everyone can access. This month, the “Open Channel” installation will be at Ramlet al-Baida beach.

“We will try to transfer the installation to all public spaces in Lebanon, especially those under threat of becoming private property. We will also try to showcase the project outside Beirut in other Lebanese cities that also suffer from a lack of public spaces,” Khouja told Al-Akhbar.

The project is meant to bring people out to public spaces in Lebanon; to make these spaces more vibrant, especially the neglected ones, to draw attention to them and to provoke the public’s interaction with them. Ramlet al-Baida beach, which up till now, is still open to the public is actually private property. We do not know when we will wake up to find it fenced in, which is what happened with the area of al-Daliyeh.

The fact is, few of Beirut’s residents go to Ramlet al-Baida beach for many reasons, from the contamination of the water to fear of being mugged or assaulted. This is the result of the Lebanese state and the municipalities’ failure to provide secure and clean public spaces that entice people to visit them.

Most maritime cities of the world, especially those located by the Mediterranean like Beirut, live in synergy with the sea. For example, in Barcelona, there is a public sandy beach visited by millions of tourists every year. The municipality keeps it clean and guards and protects it from any infringements. A countless number of cafes, restaurants and bars, patronized by endless crowds from early morning till late at night, dot the area parallel to the beach at a distance stipulated by the law. So you find the city in constant interplay with the sea, unlike Beirut which has turned its back to the Mediterranean.

This troubled relationship between Beirut and its sea is the result of old policies and practices such as the Lebanese state’s failure to control maritime pollution, to prevent privatizing maritime property, building private resorts, cafes and restaurants along the beach with exorbitant entrance fees and fencing off the corniche. All these policies turned Beirut into a city that has disowned its maritime heritage.

But there is Ramlet al-Baida beach, still a quasi-public space. Even if we do not want to swim in its contaminated water, the “Open Channel” project gives us the chance to visit it at night alone or with a group, to walk along the beach and listen to music of our choosing. This might seem like a simple act of entertainment but in fact it is an act of resistance against the privatization sweeping the city and the country.

Go to Ramlet al-Baida beach, declare the beach, the sea and the city your own. Blare your music loudly in the city and experience on this site, reintroduced by “Open Channel,” the act of sharing a public space with other people. Beware, however, not to play “digital drug music” lest you find yourself in confrontation with the farce that is our state.

The installation which opened on Wednesday features a daily music program. Majd al-Hamwi, Kheiry Eibesh and Ahmad Khouja played surround sound compositions on Thursday. On Friday, there was a West-African percussion concert. Today starting at 4:30, is an open mic to share stories about al-Daliyeh and Ramlet al-Baida and to reclaim public space while tomorrow evening is reserved for reggae music.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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