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"We hope to stimulate the visitors in one way or another to ask the right questions for social change and evolution and by placing our senses, our thoughts, our feelings, our needs, and our values at the core of our Being."
~ Tessa & Tara of T Sakhi
Lebanese design studio T SAKHI is forging connections between strangers with an installation called ‘Letters from Beirut’ on view at Giardini della Marinaressa in Venice. Composed of a 6 meter long wall, the work invites passersby to read and reply to personal messages from survivors of the Beirut blast, an explosion that devastated the city in August 2020.
Curated and designed by T SAKHI in partnership with Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, the public art piece speaks of human connections and resilience while bringing the words of 2,000 Beirutis to an international audience. The installation also highlights Middle Eastern craftsmanship as the wall is adorned with 4,000 felt pouches woven by Emirati craftswomen. Each pouch contains a personal message from survivors of the Beirut blast and a seed for people to take home and plant.
DLISH recently spoke to sisters Tessa and Tara of T SAKHI to find out more about this deeply thought-provoking yet hopeful installation.
Lynne Myers: Where did the idea for ‘Letters from Beirut’ come from?
T SAHKI: ‘Letters from Beirut’ came to life as a response to Lebanon’s ongoing economical, political, and societal collapse. The installation intends to commemorate the thoughts and feelings of 2,000 Lebanese citizens during these challenging and constructive times; it is our way of contributing to the preservation of Lebanon’s collective memory and to underline the power of words through letter writing. The project is our means of resisting to oblivion and a way of acknowledging the traumatic event to be able to start evolving psychologically on solid ground from that point on.
We are under the impression that ‘resiliency’ — a Lebanese trait once praised — has been used as a tool by a corrupt political system in order to control citizens’ psyche; remembrance is perhaps a first fight against the political system Lebanon has been enduring for more than 30 years. It is staggering that 10 months after the Beirut port explosion, no political or economical reforms were executed and we are still governed by the same political class that are observing our nation's collapse and are responsible for criminal acts. A QR code is also communicated to help us raise funds for Lebanon’s reconstruction through four NGOs: Beirut Heritage Initiative, Arcenciel, Beb W Shebbek and the Big Heart Foundation.
LM: This installation at Giardini della Marinaressa is running in parallel to the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021. How does it respond to the theme of this year's biennale, “How will we live together?”
T SAKHI: Although we are not part of the official biennale, we wanted to address this year’s theme posed by curator Hashim Sarkis “How will we live together?”, a very poignant and vital question we all ask ourselves today. The ‘wall of thoughts' is dedicated to restore genuine dialogue, deep connections and unexpected experiences with strangers by triggering exchange and communication beyond social media and the internet between the Lebanese community and people from all over the world visiting the Venice Architecture Biennale. It aims to focus on the power of Oneness, amongst ourselves and our surrounding habitat.
The wall starts to disintegrate the more pouches are being pulled out and it finally disappears: a metaphor to allude that through communication and exchange, humanity can overcome obstacles. The installation aims to transgress space and time through the lives of other people and provokes a sensorial and evocative experience. Even more importantly, it plants a seed for healing and heartfelt connections — connections among people, as well as between people and nature — at a time when the Lebanese people, and the world at large, so desperately need it, leaving a message of growth and hope.
LM: Tell us about the artists and craftspeople you worked with to create the pouches and papers.
T SAKHI: In support of the cause, Irthi Contemporary Craft Council has donated 4,000 pouches handcrafted by 37 Emirati craftswomen, from the Bidwa Social Development Programme in Sharjah. The pouches are made from recycled and sustainable felt stitched in silver Zari thread and lined in linen. The process incorporates a weaving technique inspired by one of the traditional hand-weaving patterns used in ‘Safeefah’, a traditional Emirati palm frond weaving craft, that uses techniques similar to basket-making. In this project, the artisans created a contemporary pattern for the felt pouches, inspired by the ‘Sayr Yaay’ technique, replacing palm fronds with recycled felt. The Bidwa Programme is designed to train and professionally develop Emirati women who practice indigenous crafts, so they are able to generate a sustainable income and achieve socioeconomic empowerment, founded in 2016 by Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council.
The papers used in the project are handmade papers by University students (Mariam Abdulkarim, Amal Al Hammadi, and Zainab Adel) as their graduation project. The materials used were recycled papers, water, acrylic colors, blender and wooden molds.
The seeds to plant are coriander, zucchini, and green beans, all edible plants used in Lebanese cuisine. Each pouch is scented with a stimulating natural fragrance evocative of Lebanon’s flora; cedar, pine, gennet, thyme, or jasmine.
The mission of the project is to encourage and preserve cultural and craft heritage, support artisans and sustainable design process in the Arab region, as well as instill hope in a nation sinking in an economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis.
LM: What's the main message or feeling you'd like visitors to take away from this installation?
T SAKHI: The installation consists of a 6 m linear wall that acts as a surface for contact and exchange and utilizes our senses to engage pedestrians who are encouraged to select one of the 2,000 handcrafted scented pouches to take home; inside they discover both, a personal message from a Beiruti survivor to which they are encouraged to answer back to, as well as a seed — a universal symbol of rebirth — to plant and grow. We hope our work sparks a bit of hope to the Lebanese citizens, by giving them a voice during this difficult period in Lebanon, while confronting the complexity of the situation we abruptly find ourselves in. Undoubtedly, we hope to stimulate the visitors in one way or another to ask the right questions for social change and evolution and by placing our senses, our thoughts, our feelings, our needs, and our values at the core of our Being.
The installation and letters continue a life of their own; people are corresponding back, sending pictures to each other, framing the letters in their homes, some integrating them in their artworks. People from different generations and cultures connecting genuinely with one another, honest interactions amongst strangers. It was important for us to leave space for spontaneity and appropriation, to discover and observe how people will creatively and intuitively engage with the installation and give it additional layers with connections as unique as the two communicating.
Click here to see more works by T Sakhi.
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