Rania Stephan is a Lebanese filmmaker. After a few years in France, she goes back to live in Beirut in 2005 where she entirely devotes herself to her films. This text is the outcome of her speech at the round table on “Cultural Cooperation at a Time of Mediterranean Revolutions’ co-organised with the group Thought and Practice in the framework of the “Festival des Instants Vidéo numériques et poétiques” on the 11 November 2013.
The cultural sector in Lebanon
Lebanon is a dysfunctional country, a disarranged State. There is no cultural policy, no money. As an artist, I have no contact with the Lebanese State, an entity that has no impact on my life. Everyone has to find his own way to survive and work. However, in a certain way, this weakness of the State can also be an advantage as it allows us to say and do things freely. There are loads of specific and remarkable spontaneous personal initiatives. The contemporary cultural sector in Lebanon is marked by these personal initiatives.
There is a plurality of levels of creativity. The first level consists of a few artists (from the Lebanese diaspora) that are very well known abroad. There are indeed a number of organisations that are doing a great job in connecting Lebanese artistic creativity with the rest of the world. The second level consists of other artists that strive to find grants abroad but due to the crisis, Europe seems less able to fund. Artists therefore look for funds in the Gulf countries or turn to private organisations such as foundations. Moreover, people are increasingly searching for grants in the Arab countries. We realise that there is also an art market in these countries but the difficulty lies in the fact that artists may be sometimes promoted too quickly on these markets. Consequently, it seems to distort the artist’s relationship to art and to the context of production. Then there is a third level, that is, the Lebanese artistic scene itself. This scene is very dynamic in an apocalyptic regional context and this may seem quite surprising.
Lebanon is a country of extreme political polarisation. There are hollows, holes, gaps where the most advanced artistic expression can exist thanks to institutions managed by committed individuals that have an incredible will, that spend their time looking for funds. Lebanon seems to be affected by the repercussions of the situation in Syria but has still its specificities: currently, on the one hand, we can have outbreaks of Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists and on the other hand, very daring exhibitions are held. All this coexists in Lebanon.
The Arab Revolutions
I believe that 2011 is definitely a historical moment. While some find it hard to call this a Revolution, it is a profound upheaval of Arab societies that has occurred during these events. Arab societies have actually revealed themselves with all their complexities, their underground trends that were not visible politically until then. We are no longer in a one-sided relationship with the West.
We are now obliged to redefine a lot of concepts and make them our own. For instance, an analysis that is only carried out from a Marxist perspective seems very limited. We need to invent new concepts to observe what is happening and try to give meaning to this reality.
We currently have a sort of setback to this new creative energy that has revealed itself to the eyes of Arab societies. We are not going through the most optimistic time but for me, the Arab Revolutions have definitely brought hope that change can be possible and this is of utmost importance. As a Lebanese living in the East, I feel that these revolutions have brought by an upheaval that is deep, complex, strange, wonderful and inventive at the same time.
Reducing this crazy energy that has exploded since 2011 to an American and Israeli plot makes no sense and it makes me really sad to hear it because there are people that have sacrificed themselves, that have given their lives and that have deployed such an incredible imagination to make a different approach possible.
These revolutions have made us face our societies in their nakedness, in their deepest, most inventive and responsive selves. We now have to deal with this magma, invent new concepts and different tools for expression to redefine ourselves, to know how we are going to cope with all this. Today, it is about understanding how to address this backlash that is happening in Syria and Egypt.