After having transformed Beirut’s war-ravaged Burj El Murr with vibrant curtains in 2018, Lebanese artist Jad El Khoury has added color — and undeniably joy — to one most iconic landmarks on the Lebanese coastline.
In the northern city of Batroun, one cannot help but notice a peculiar building on the shore next to Colonel Brewery: an unfinished concrete alien from the school of brutalism. Built in 1963 by architect Nicolas Yazigi, the unusual structure was conceived to become an aquarium as part of a marine complex, including a maritime educational establishment, accommodation and administrative blocks, a restaurant, fish tanks and a planetarium. Sadly, the project was abandoned due to conflicting authorities, and the Aquarium remains closed-off to this day.
“Manchafet El Baher” is an art installation that breathes new life into the Aquarium while highlighting the movement generated by the structure’s distinctive architecture. Beach towels of various colors and patterns have been suspended along the ramp spiraling the structure to emphasize its swirling, circular motion. The swaying towels animate the building on both visual and auditory levels through the oscillating movement of the wind.
The installation also pays tribute to the tender wind of Batroun that echoes the smell, taste and feeling of the sea. By the simple movement of the wind, the Aquarium returns to its original purpose of bringing joy to the public. It sheds light on the degrading cultural sector in Lebanon and brings into questions the lack of development of public cultural and scientific centers.
Speaking about his latest project, El Khoury says: “During these times of uncertainty when we are craving good news, this installation aims to spread positivity.
The empty, ghostly structure is like a dream catcher, inviting people to appreciate nature and the vision we had in the 60s — a reminder of how great Lebanon could be.”
Text: Danielle Karam