“Walking in the city is an act of protest. Protesting the cars, the small sidewalks, the filled rubbish bins, the tall grey buildings" Reflections on a walk – Nohad ElHajj
Picture 1 - Excerpts from my reflections after every walk
The Research Question When I started my research in September 2021, I was in a desperate and almost frustrated hurry to find THE answer to a bold question I was not letting go of “Which art practice might have the most potential to become an impactful and influential form of protest in post-conflict/ conflict contexts taking Beirut as my research space.” I was in a position where all the discourses around me did not make sense anymore. I was only surrounded by fear, destruction, and loudness. So, I thought that I would find different artists, talk to them and get my answer.
Methodology As I was progressing with my research, I realised that before looking for the artists, I needed to understand and situate my own position. Etel Adnan’s literature formed the literary backdrop to my thinking. And I decided to take from her the intuitive way of working. Theoretically, I situated myself within the feminist and post-colonial works of Silvia Federicci, Ariella Azoulay, Bell Hooks and Elizabeth Povinelli. Practically, I did 8 walks out of which I produced 8 reflective texts (picture 1) and 8 polaroid photos. The polaroid photos through an emulsion lift process were transferred to a cotton paper and were made into a leporello (picture 2). I decided as well to ‘walk & talk’ with seven artists from different artistic practices as a form of interview about my research question. I wanted to situate the conversation in Beirut, in the streets that they chose to take me to. I asked each one to take a polaroid photo in a place of change and /or meaning to them. Those polaroid photos were transformed into a leporello as well (picture 3). Seven copies were produced and given back to the artists. I imagine the leporello as a space where those photos and all the walks behind them interact, converse, and engage. The seven artists are: Tarek Mourad, Dzovig Arnelian, Roy Dib, Hanane Haj Ali, Samar Mogharbel, Sirine Fattouh and Tony Chakar. I must mention that I am forever in debt to their generosity and openness with me. Those walks were very humbling.
Picture 2 - My Walks Leporello
Picture 3 - Artists Leporello
Artistic Position Through the theoretical framework and my art practice, I came to understand art as a medium that can open spaces to collectively imagine and co-create a shared future. This medium’s aim is not limited to describing, dramatising, romanticising or victimising our past and present. It actually goes beyond those roles to truly shift narratives and change the cultural, religious, social, economic and political structures that are governing our daily lives. I also came to understand protesting as an act of unlearning, imagining and healing against complex, historically rooted, structures that are pushing us - the humans and non- humans sharing the city- to live in segregated communities and in extreme, polarised discourses. The ‘walk&talk’ with the seven artists took me further not only in how I understand the city in its different faces but also how I understand/ relate to art, its different positions in society and the different roles of the artist. I found each artist comfortable and humble in their own position. I stopped looking for The answer as I found multiple answers. On the other hand, I saw threads that might be weaved together in the future.
Walking as a Protest Rounding up my research, for the sake of the final presentation, was not easy. I see my research as a collage of different elements, talks during ADMA sessions, my fellow ADMA colleagues, ADMA tutors, non-human encounters, readings etc.., that emerged and helped me to carry it on. Walking became my artistic medium and I felt like the truest form to show my research to the group was through taking them for a walk in Beirut. Yet, to me, this walk was my own protest.
Edited video of the livestream of the final presentation for ADMA – July 2021
I am continuing my research on walking. It can be found here Noh_Walks.
I am a multi-disciplinary researcher, consultant, and artist based in Beirut, Lebanon.
As a researcher and as an artist, I work at the intersection of art, politics and society using printmaking, photography and walking as my main mediums.
As a consultant, I work on strategic planning, partnership building and resource mobilisation across sectors.