WOCMES Panel: Neighbourliness: Neighbourhood relations in Beirut and beyond
18 July 2018
2.30pm - 4.30pm
The OIB is organising a panel at WOCMES related to its current research focus on neighbourhood relations.
The Concept of Neighbourliness. Zoqaq al-Blat in History (Birgit Schäbler)
Neighbourhood relations differ from other kinds of relations in that they are primarily defined by space. Closeness rather than distance define neighbours and neighbourhoods. Even more, the spatial relation is more or less an enforced one – in most cases neighbours are not chosen but already there when people move and arrive newly.
The spatial character and the enforced closeness of shared space make the neighbourhood boundaries special boundaries. Thus the sensitivity of the neighbourhood border and the neighbourhood as such. Conflicts in neighbourhoods are often dramatic, the solidarity of neighbours has been and still is a bare necessity.
This gives the notion of neighbourliness its normative touch. We almost instinctively think of the proverbial “good neighbourly relations”, to be unneighbourly means to be unfriendly.
How have neighbourhoods in cities which are home to the three cultures developed and changed over time? Especially in a city like Beirut, which experienced a long civil war? How have central institutions of the city like art galleries, museums and university campuses shaped the fabric of the neighbourhoods around them, also outside of the city and in the country-side? Have they contributed to a spirit of neighbourliness? Did neighbourhoods develop around them?
And last but not least what do migrants of such cities bring to their new neighbourhoods? Do they reproduce them abroad? How do the borders of such neighbourhoods look in foreign metropoles?
Art Galleries and Theatres in Beirut in the 1970s: A matter of distance and proximity (Monique Bellan)
In the 1960s and early 1970s the number of art galleries and theatres in Beirut significantly increased. Beirut was then a centre for artistic, literary and intellectual exchange that largely benefited from the presence of artists and writers from neighbouring Arab countries. The relative wealth of this period, which was also partly due to the influx of economic capital provided by these groups, led to a flourishing art sector. At the same time, the Baalbek Festival played an important role in establishing theatre in Lebanon: In the early 1960s, Munir Abu Debs who had studied theatre in Paris was commissioned to launch the first theatre school in Lebanon and lay the grounds for a professional theatre. In the early 1970s a number of companies and theatres existed alongside with art galleries such as Contact Art Gallery and Gallery One. The concentration was particularly dense in the Hamra district of Beirut, which was then the intellectual and artistic hub of the Arab region. This paper looks at the spatial configuration of theatres and galleries in this part of the city and its implications for the analysis of neighbourhood as a concept for describing relations between individuals, groups and spaces. It also takes into account the aesthetic vicinity of different media – visual arts and theatre – and the transgression or dissolution of borders. Neighbourhood is considered a system within which parameters such as proximity and distance – be it spatial, symbolical, social, political, cultural or artistic - and the identification of borders and their transgression will be analysed. In how far are the galleries and theatres places for encounters and exchange and to what extent do they interact with their surroundings?
Beirut’s Sursock Museum within and beyond its Neighbourhood (Nadia von Maltzahn)
Beirut's Sursock Museum, a modern and contemporary art museum in Lebanon's capital, re-opened its doors to the public in October 2015 after an extensive renovation and extension. Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock, from a wealthy land-owning family, in his will bequeathed his mansion to the city of Beirut, to be turned into a public museum. While after his death in 1952 the villa was initially used as a guesthouse for visiting heads of state, eventually the will had to be honoured. First opened in 1961, the museum became known for its annual Salon d’Automne, a group exhibition of contemporary art. The salon was launched at a high period for contemporary art in Lebanon and quickly became a symbol of the museum. It was also the place to see and be seen in the 1960s and 1970s. In the post-civil war period the museum started gradually losing its pull, and closed for major renovation in 2008. Public outreach is one of the missions of the newly expanded museum, which was traditionally associated with the cultural elites not least through its location. Situated in the Sursock quarter, one of Beirut’s most affluent neighbourhoods that carries the name of the family that donated the museum, the challenge was to dissociate the museum from the perceived class barriers of its neighbourhood. During the re-opening in 2015, the museum team organised several artistic walks both through the Sursock quarter and the city of Beirut, trying to relate the museum to its immediate and wider surroundings from a new perspective. This paper examines the ways the museum is positioned vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, both from the inside and the outside. Drawing on interviews, institutional literature and newspaper archives, the Sursock Museum’s relationship with its public will be explored in the context of its neighbourhood.
When Crisis Promotes Proximity: how the Lebanese University moved into its neighborhoods (Jonathan Kriener)
The Lebanese war of 1975 to 1990 divided the country into different regions characterized by different religious and ethnic communities through guarded and hard-fought demarcation lines. As one of many calamities that sprang from this, large numbers of university students and staff across the country were not able to arrive at their institutions for work and study anymore. Soon, some universities responded by opening branch campuses in regions or neighborhoods other than their main campuses’. The Lebanese University, the largest university of the country and its only public one, finally branched out into more than 40 locations, from Tripoli in the North to Tyre in the South, from multiple venues in Beirut and its outskirts to Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa valley and the Shouf mountains, based on a ministerial decree of 1976. For obvious reasons, this move has never been reversed despite initiatives and plans to do so. And while it reflects the inner division of Lebanon on several levels, it also moved the Lebanese University nearer to the country’s geographical and social peripheries, thereby enabling a kind of inclusion different from the one initially intended. By focusing on some of its causes and effects, this paper will shed light on a relation of neighborhood that emerges from an interplay between necessity and intention.
Diaspora Neighborhoods – The Blouzaniyye from Lebanon in Sydney (Marie Karner)
Migrants have significantly contributed to the formation and development of Sydney’s culturally diverse neighborhoods. Out of all the immigrants that have arrived in Sydney, village chain migration was particularly prevalent among the Lebanese groups. Until today, their settlement patterns are linked to specific villages of origin. In accordance with this, the majority of Lebanese associations was founded to engage with others from the same village of origin apart from religious institutions and non-sectarian umbrella organizations. Over time, these associations have implemented strategies to establish and diversify neighborhood relations.
Within a multi-sited research design, qualitative interviews were conducted with 175 members of ten Maronite diasporic village communities. Based on a practice theoretical approach, the following questions will be addressed: Through which practices do members of diasporic village communities contribute to the local incorporation of their community? What are the related motives of community leaders? How can current conceptualizations of diaspora be modified to depict neighborhood relations?
A focus on the most active of the studied communities will shed light on the intentions and impacts of such practices. In the past two decades, the leaders of the Australian Blouza Association (ABA) in Sydney intensified their networking and charitable initiatives and encourage members to invite their friends and neighbors. They started various events that are not only targeted towards their own members, but in particular, towards business partners and local politicians who equally benefit from this engagement. This collaboration becomes apparent in the building environment of Granville. With the support of government funds, the ABA was able to renovate a heritage hall that serves as a meeting place beyond their community. Mutual advantages on an economic, social and cultural level are thus the main drivers for neighborhood relations and ensure the preservation of diasporic communities.