Maya al-Hajj is a young Lebanese painter whose art depicts individual memory and its link to the memory of cities.
Born and raised in one of Beirut's memory-infused old houses, al-Hajj, like many Lebanese, found herself watching the city's architectural heritage collapse, and with it people's stories and memories.
Her most recent art exhibition, entitled "Walls of Support", tells of the violence inflicted on these buildings throughout the country's history, and is currently on display at Beirut's Piece Unique gallery in Beirut.
Al-Hajj sat down Al-Shorfa to talk about her work.
Al-Shorfa: Why did you choose "Walls of Support" as the title for your exhibit?
Al-Hajj: "Walls of Support" symbolises the old buildings demolished in the capital, Beirut, so new buildings -- which have no character -- could replace them. [These new buildings] do not tell anything about us, or about our lives as citizens. The old buildings carry many of our memories, and our identity; and therefore, they are not mere walls. They are walls that enfold our stories as residents: we who were born and grew up inside them. These old walls carry our stories -- our individual stories -- and moments of joy and grief, which everyone who lived in those homes knew well.
Al-Shorfa: You are affected to that extent by what happens to these buildings?
Al-Hajj: Of course. Walls of support to me are walls that carry many families' and individuals' stories. Today, regrettably, they are disappearing and will soon be non-existent."
Al-Shorfa: Yet, 'support' implies strength.
Al-Hajj: [Yes] and normally, buildings rise on [support walls]. But Beirut's old buildings have become fragile and are collapsing very swiftly.
Al-Shorfa: So tell us about the exhibit. How many works do you have on display?
Al-Hajj: I have 28 works of various dimensions on display and have introduced several techniques [through these works]. In addition to painting in oil, I used fascine, ink and silk paper.
Al-Shorfa: One notices an overabundance of nails and screws in your drawings as well as natural elements in your paintings. What does this symbolise?
Al-Hajj: Nails and screws represent the violence these walls are experiencing, as well as our history. These nails narrate, in a dramatic, violent way, the end of the stories we lived behind these walls.
Al-Shorfa: How attached are you to those buildings?
Al-Hajj: Very much. I was born and grew up in Beirut, in an old but beautiful house. Therefore, I feel a great emotional attachment to this kind of building, which embraced [and nurtured] my childhood as well as the childhoods of those who lived in this city and experienced its moments of joy and grief. Some of them died in these houses, while others were evicted by force.
Al-Shorfa: How were you able to express the reality of what is happening to these buildings?
Al-Hajj: I expressed the agonies of these buildings and the lives of the people who lived behind their walls. I expressed our identity and our memory that [people seek] to erase. Individual memory gives rise to the memory of the homeland. The question remains: What is left of the memory of the homeland when we erase individual memories?"
Al-Shorfa: Is it possible to say that you are committed to displaying the reality of society?
Al-Hajj: Commitment is the basic work of an artist, who in his own way senses others and their realities. No artist is lives in a world of his own, isolating himself from society, not interacting with his surroundings. On the contrary, he is the mirror and with his art, he manifests what is happening without violence, and in a beautiful way.
Al-Shorfa: Will you explore other themes if and when you finish this subject?
Al-Hajj: I will [continue to] follow subjects I have [already] chosen. I am not able to extricate myself from my environment to address other subjects. I lived in Beirut, and it would be difficult for me to paint other subjects. Indeed, I did some work on Beirut in the past, but in a different way; I dealt with people's way of life in Beirut and their identities in [the city].