Bubble Beirut

I decided to travel to Beirut to get a deeper understanding of the Arab world. It was supposedly a quiet time: the country was slowly heading towards an uncertain, but at least peaceful, place. It was the end of 2011, the war in Syria was still a revolution and the forced displacement of people towards Lebanon was just beginning. You could sense the anxiety among the people; a lingering doubt hovered about whether the Syrian conflict would spread to Lebanon and drag the country into a new war.

The upper classes did not seem to lose any sleep over this possibility. A motto of “Live for today, because we don’t know what tomorrow may bring” accompanied them as they partied the nights away in the best clubs and restaurants, with champagne flowing from one table to the next spattering their haute couture clothes. When the city gets up, after the nocturnal excesses of its inhabitants, the hangover is plain to see: corruption, lack of infrastructures and scars from the Civil War, still visible on many buildings, mean that describing Beirut today as the Paris of the Middle East is bitterly ironic.

Lebanon is fragmented into religious groups and everyone knows who the important families are in each sect. Over a period of five years and nine visits to the country, I have been able to get to know a series of people really well who are powerful, rich or both: ancient aristocratic lineage, prominent people in political or religious communities, expatriates who have returned with a fortune made abroad or entrepreneurs with businesses as powerful as they are dubious. The project goes into the day to day of some of these families and their way of life, an area that does not usually get seen in public.

So Bubble Beirut is an invitation to get into that bubble, normally inaccessible, that this minority group has built. With this project I aim to capture that reality that is so tangible yet, who knows, maybe ephemeral: bubbles are perfect structures, but fragile.

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