The Writing on the Wall: A mural for Defiance

David Silverman Photography

by Margaret K. Evans

Aug. 1, 2017

Lebanese artist Yazan Halwani created a mural for the Media Lab's Defiance event. He called this work "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."

When Lebanese artist Yazan Halwani took part in a Media Lab workshop in Dubai last year, we were struck by the poignancy of his work. His philosophy dovetailed with the defiance theme that was then forming the foundation of planning for our 2017 summer event. Soon after, we witnessed the scale of Yazan's street art across Beirut where he's based, and later we asked him to create a mural for Defiance.

Yazan's statement on his Defiance mural

"This Lebanese woman, Umm Haydar, lives in one of the poorer areas of Lebanon. To work and provide for her family, she rides a motorcycle while being veiled—an action that has generated debate in the conservative community where she lives. She is transcending society's pressures in order to lead a better life and to do what she thinks is correct while facing rejection from both conservative and more progressive parts of society."

About Yazan Halwani

When Yazan Halwani was born in 1993 in Beirut, the Lebanese Civil War had taken its toll and large parts of the city had been destroyed.  In 2007, influenced by French hip-hop music, he began experimenting with graffiti. 

Yazan’s murals are typically made of Arabic letters which form intricate,  modern, and stylized compositions. Such compositions push Arabic calligraphy to become pixels for a portrait and challenge the abstraction at the core of traditional Arabic calligraphy.

“I choose my Arabic words based on their shape, movement, or composition, not on their meaning,” Yazan says. “Original Arabic calligraphy has always focused on the meaning, but I wanted to challenge the tradition and remove the meaning of the words to solely use the words as pixels of a whole portrait.” Yazan adds that his current work combines Arabic calligraphy and portraits of Arab people. “Graffiti has a strong connotation of vandalism, but in my city, most people do vandalism: the Lebanese Civil War, corrupt politicians. This is why I try to make my murals a constructive expression of the city.”

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