During the last two years I made a series of illustrations related to different causes in different cities. Eventually all of them, with all the differences that existed in the context of their formation, eventually led to the same slogan: Future is Black and Female. From the resistance of domestic workers in Beirut against the unfair legislation of the Kafala system, to the resistance movement against the Zwarte Piet’s tradition in Holland. Although these works are made for contexts far from each other, and they consider the diverse sensible social contracts, they all try to empower the resistance of minoritarian voices against the dominating power structure.
Black Beirut is a phenomenon that I’ve heard from Sumayya Kassamali first time, in Beirut June 2019. Sumayya Kassamali is an anthropologist whose work focuses on urban violence and migration in the Middle East. She holds a PhD from Columbia University (2017) and is a postdoctoral fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University. She define black Beirut like this:
“Over the last decade, increasing numbers of African and Asian women who arrive to Lebanon as migrant domestic workers have escaped the homes of their employers, to whom their legal residence in the country is tied, and entered the urban working classes of the Lebanese capital. There they have recently been joined by thousands of men fleeing war in neighbouring Syria.
Together, they have built a layer to the city of Beirut that has transformed both the city and the lives of the workers who keep the city functioning. Theirs is a city where Bangladeshi grocery stores open in a Palestinian refugee camp, Ethiopian women marry Sudanese refugees, Filipina women invite Syrian construction workers to join them for karaoke, and everyone shares cigarettes waiting in line for visiting hours at ‘Adliyye detention center. This Beirut is publicly visible to an extent, but its internal operations rely on learned codes and guarded entry. It is multi-lingual, multi-national, and multi-ethnic, and it is surely one of the most diverse corners of the entire Levant. Its spatial centre is the adjacent neighborhoods of Bourj Hammoud, Dawra, and Ras el-Nab’aa, and its temporal climax is Sunday, but it is a network spread throughout the city and beyond. It includes small side streets in one neighborhood, a church and the alleys that spill out from it in another, private schools that transform into flag-filled celebrations for different nations, outdoor stadiums that host international pop stars for migrant audiences, catering services for home-cooked cuisine, sports teams and fashion competitions and niche social clubs, as well as ways to smuggle cell phones, sewing needles, and hair extensions into prison. It is a thriving underground, but it is subject to constant harassment and the threat of forced closure at the hands of both state and society. I call it ‘Black Beirut.’”