Lucy Knight

Collective creativity

As the city’s artistic side grows, so do the number of spaces in which to get creative

The Waraq Collective
The Waraq Collective
The Waraq Collective

Beirut's reputation as a hub of design and creativity is growing rapidly. In the past five years the city has seen the opening of several new art galleries that host international exhibits; conferences that showcase what the region has to offer in design; and probably most excitingly, the establishment of collectives that encourage a range of artistic expression, through workshops and classes. The latest of these spaces to come from a new generation of artists is Waraq.

They met in puppet workshops, on road trips and through friends: a group of young creatives, all working in different fields, they soon realized that by working together they could come up with more interesting and innovative projects. They decided to get a space and share the joy of creativity with others.

In Waraq’s ‘house’, the ground floor of a slightly dilapidated but striking, ‘culture traditionnelle’ house on one of the back streets of Ras al Nabaa, a red teapot is hot, its contents ready to quench the thirst of the team. Everything is a little bit makeshift but suitably ‘arty’, and a kitchen supplies freshly made peach tart. The group talk about how they came to be working alongside one another. Joan, David, Ashley, and Hussein, all come from artistic backgrounds and share a similar vision.

“When we first started working on projects together,” says Joan, “people kept calling us a company and we said, ‘no!’” Disliking that label, the quartet wanted to market themselves as a group who can propose far wider things collectively, than were they just four individuals. “The space came second,” Joan says. “Being hired as a collective, as opposed to a company, is still a very new concept here. We don’t want to be stuck in the structure of a ‘company.’” Just four individuals with different backgrounds and passions, teaming up in order to propose new things to the market – as their Facebook page says, with an aim "to create and showcase multidisciplinary artistic projects in the Arab world.”

One particular project the group has been working on recently is based around social intervention. Hussein, a drama teacher by day, explains the work they are doing with a local NGO, Italian Solidarity in the World (COSV). Using various staged formats – ‘you’re sitting in a restaurant and start a conversation with the person next to you’ - they are aiming, through acting, to teach youngsters how to socially interact.
When it comes to their own space – two huge high-ceilinged rooms filled with beanbags and colorful tiles – they have been hosting various warsheh and saff (workshops and classes in English respectively,) covering a range of disciplines, all appealing to the creative side of Beirut’s citizens. One such event was an experimental animation workshop with Peter Budinsky, a Slovakian animator; another, a creative writing workshop, with Raafat Majzoub, creative director of The Outpost magazine. “I actually took this one,” says Joan, “it wasn’t typical; there was a lot of conversation, even cooking at one point.” There was a switching of journals, which were then taken home in order to discuss them at the next meeting, no doubt on beanbags. The final session ended with everyone producing something different with narration as the basis - the warsheh didn’t sound run of the mill.

March saw a collage workshop with artist Dima Tannir, exploring the techniques of analogues and digital. “To work with others, witness their process,” says Tannir, “is great. I’ll definitely be back.” Later this month there will be a course given by French photographer Marion Normand, going from the basics of photography to a reporter style angle.
Waraq’s aim is not unique though. The idea of a converted Beiruti house as a space to host creatives has become popular in the last few years, and spaces like Ashkal Alwan, Dar al Mussawir, and more recently Lamba Labs, are part of a growing trend encouraging people of different disciplines to join forces and create fun, inspiring and thoughtful work. But Waraq are still finding their feet. “Somewhere like Lamba Labs has a specific thing going on,” says Hussein. “The hacker space has an international concept and structure, we’re still researching what we have.” Currently without funding, beyond what is in their own pockets, they are keen to keep themselves outside of the realm of ‘companies’ and ‘businesses’. “We still haven’t designed specific roles for one another,” Hussein continues. “At the moment we are doing everything together.”
During NOW’s conversation with the collective’s founders, a young man pops his head out of a side room: a Syrian artist who has his first solo show coming up, he is putting the final touches to his work. “In terms of being totally open,” says Joan, “we’d like, later on when there is enough income to maintain the house, to get to a point where we can say ‘come whenever you like.’”
“This is not like a project where we start and finish and that’s it,” says David, “this really feels like something that is growing.”

Experimental animation workshop with Peter Budinsky (image courtesy of Waraq)

idea of a converted Beiruti house as a space to host creatives has become popular in the last few years, and spaces like Ashkal Alwan, Dar al Mussawir, and more recently Lamba Labs, are part of a growing trend encouraging people of different disciplines to join forces