A familiar ongoing struggle along Beirut’s waterfront is that between those who want free access to the sea and the privatization of the Mediterranean seashore. “The Sea is Mine” is one of the most unique and creative environmental awareness projects I have come across. The aim of the project, conceived by the Dictaphone Group comprised of Abir Saksouk (an architect and urban planner), Tania El Khoury (live artist and performer), and Petra Serhal (a performer and producer) is to allow for the public audience to experience the concepts behind seashore ownership, the public space and the public good “the sea” and to learn what has happened to Beirut’s waterfront. This learning process is achieved through a mixture of theater performances, live art piece and interactive political polemics on a boat journey from the port of Ein Mreisseh to the white beach in Ramla.
The audience, comprised of five passengers, are given a research booklet beautifully designed by Nadine Bekdache which contains maps, legal texts, descriptions of developmental trajectories of beaches and waterfront spaces, and oral history accounts in the vernacular.
The passengers then climb into the rickety fishing boat captained by Adnan El-Oud who navigates the boat out into the open sea as he explains how Beirut’s reconstruction pioneered by Solidere resulted in several tons of debris dumped into the sea affecting the topography of the area and the livelihoods of the people who depended on access to the sea.
At this point, as the audience is settling into this narrative Adnan suddenly declares “This Sea is Mine,” and Tania El Khoury emerges from the midst of the sea (watch video to see how) and joins the group for the rest of the trip, guiding the audience through texts of laws and regulations that promised the Lebanese public use of the waterfront.
Unfortunately promises of sharing the public seafront with the Lebanese community has been largely unfulfilled today, instead legal loopholes are favoring resorts, restaurants, cafes, retail sector and hotels rendering the seafront a private good. The story as to why the Beiruti waterfront has catastrophically ended solely in the hands of the private sector is long and intertwined and it is partially explained here and here (Arabic).
But the beautiful takeaway from this story is that young Lebanese are emerging as creative bearers of environmental awareness through art and theater, see for example Lebanon’s Trash Theater and the True Cost of Rubbish.
Images of “The Sea is Mine” by Houssam Mchaiemch from the Dictaphone Group