FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BOLD
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” tech executive, activist and Facebook COO asked graduates when invited to give the commencement speech at a US college, before promptly telling them, “Go do it.”
At A Mag that’s the sort of advice we think worth taking. Venturing beyond the beaten path needs guts. You must be fearless, aim high, speak your mind, and believe in order to get things done. You must be bold.
For this issue, we celebrate the Lebanese (and in one case Syrian) activists, artist, journalists, musicians, entrepreneurs who have jumped all obstacles to express themselves, to do what they want, to make their mark.
Photographed by architect, photographer and Beirut resident Ieva Saudargaité, we discover what it takes to be who you want to be and do what you want to do.
Writer / Human rights activist
Staunch feminist, activist and founder of erotic magazine Jasad, Joumana, 46, is regularly dubbed one of the most powerful women in the Arab world in the press. Her book I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman garnered her praise internationally and death threats locally for its unflinching and provocative portrayal of the odds stacked against Arab women. But she never wavers. “Passion,” she says, “gets me up in the morning. I do what I do to stay alive.” For her it’s not misogyny but the confessional system that is the biggest hindrance to Lebanese society and her favourite Lebanese icon is someone who moved beyond that, Sabah. “She had the guts to be herself and to live the way she wanted to, despite any judgment,”
Word of advice? Dare
What do you want written on your tombstone? No tombstone please. I want to be incinerated
Actor / Dramatist
Joe, 49, was the first Arab writer and director to perform on an off-Broadway stage in 2003 with his controversial play The Middle Beast. A sense of humour and never say die attitude drive him to work, “I am up to many, many things at the moment, some of them are extremely naughty. I can’t tell you what gets me up in the morning though… I am bit shy.” Yeah right… Joe’s heroes are the wrestlers Cain Velasquez and Ronda Rousey, and Lebanese clairvoyant Leila Abdellatif. His humour does stop somewhere – kind of. “I will not insult my audience,” Kodeih says. “Unless the character I am performing requires it.”
What is the biggest problem we face in contemporary (Lebanese) society? Greed and ignorance… and bad architecture
If you had to be locked in a Beirut building overnight, which would it be? Sama Beirut. It will enhance my cardio rate and once at the top, I will have the rush of a sniper
Optometrist turned DJ
Superstar Lebanese DJ, Caline, 42, plays music because she can’t help it. “It feels right at that point in my life. My greatest love is music, it caters to my every emotion,” so playing it to others comes naturally. Caline’s icons are “Lebanese mums, for what they represent, aim and achieve,” but she believes that ego is the country’s biggest threat. Her advice to us attempting to achieve our dreams: “Therapy for me was a great adventure, I would advise everyone to go through it.”
Home is… What I want to come back to
What will you never do for the sake of your art? Step on someone’s foot to achieve my goals, that line I will never cross
Painter/Installation artist/Beirut Madinati candidate
There was nothing bolder than artist Nada, alongside 23 more of Beirut’s most talented filmmakers, architects, professors, and civil society activists, creating Beirut political party Beirut Madiniti to run in municipal elections in May 2016. “The lack of free choice is a major problem here in Lebanon. We are the obedient and docile prisoners of our confessional political system… but so far, we as a people, do not believe that we deserve this kind of freedom of choice,” she says. Nada is not afraid of challenging the status quo, whether through her large-scale installations and paintings or her political activism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she truly admires Syria’s volunteer civil defence organisation The White Helmets – “the unknown people who believe they can make a difference in a hopeless situation.” Still it’s the “The daylight filtering through the blinds,” that gets Nada up in the morning.
Turning point in your career? In 2001, when I took my work from the gallery space to the public space
What do you want written on your tombstone? “Gone looking for a planet with less gravity”
37-year-old Habib is a veteran Middle East reporter having written for major local and international publications, and a dogged pursuer of corruption and wrongdoing in the highest echelons of power. “I feel like there’s such a huge need for investigative reporting in this country,” he says. “Right now I’m writing a piece on the intersection between real estate, politics and archaeology,” and this daily calling to report and investigate that drives him. “Everyday is an act of subversion. Writing and investigating in Lebanon is a constant act of subversion.” But he still has time to look into the best places to eat Lebanese food: “There is this tiny fisherman’s restaurant in Tyre. It serves the best fish, tabbouleh, and spicy diced potatoes around.”
Turning point in your career? Winning the Samir Kassir Award twice. That’s when I realized I was going to stick to journalism.
Word of advice? Don’t give up, change is slow by nature and that’s the way it’s always been. Be critical but always look for people who are doing admirable work
Samer Saem Eldahr AKA Hello Psychaleppo
Hailing from Aleppo, 27-year-old Samer has in recent years become an electronic sensation, playing numerous venues in Beirut and abroad, most notably the Roskilde Festival 2016 in Denmark, a turning point in his career. Currently working on his third album, titled Toyour/Birds slated for release at the end of 2017 he says, “I do what I do to preserve the Arab culture and its rich music, using modern tools to connect the younger generation to our music theory and heritage.” His Arab music hero? “I’ve been admiring Palestinian singer/songwriter Mohamed Ghazi recently. I don’t have much information about the artist, but I know that he used to teach “Muashahat Andalousiye” and Arabic language to Fairuz. The guy was a genius.”
What’s your approach to fashion? I’m a nerd/gangster/elegant looking kind of guy, who’s really into detailed patterns. Recently, black has been the colour for me. Intentionally wearing and seeing that color outside of my head has made me accept my ever-going grief
The biggest problem we face in contemporary society is… Ignorance and not being willing to understand the “other”
Bookseller/Owner of Papercup
There were two moments when it all made sense for Rania – “Working at Zoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s magazine in New York, that changed my life. And opening Paper cup, which was the fulfilment of a dream.” That occurred in 2009, in what was then a quiet residential neighbourhood with little if any footfall. It took guts, incredible self-belief and determination to succeed and become a pioneering store in the now hip district of Mar Mikhael. “Papercup works because it’s about the experience of the space, the experience people have when they come in,” she says. “I created a place where I like to hang out and be cosy, and it turns out a lot of other people feel the same way.” As might be expected Rania has bold opinions and bold plans: “The best food I’ve eaten here is at Halabi. Say what you like but the only food we really do well here is Lebanese. I’m planning a little publication on the side – A Mag you’ve got competition.”
Name something you will never do for the sake of your work? Sell Paulo Coelho books. Never going to happen
Words of wisdom
Follow your gut and don’t listen to anyone else. If I’d taken other people’s advice, Papercup would not exist.”
Photography by Ieva Saudargaité
Words and interviews by Rayane Abou Jaoude