My Hometown: Artist Yasmina Hilal’s Beirut
“Life in Beirut is a mix of beautiful chaos,” describes Lebanese photographer and artist Yasmina Hilal. “Every day brings something different – some tougher than others, but each contributes to this beautiful chaos.”
Hilal has roots spread across Lebanon, with family in the northern city of Tripoli – the second largest city in the country dating back to as early as 1400 BCE – and also in Southern Lebanon. Right in the middle, along the coast, is the vibrant capital of Beirut, where Hilal chose to settle. “Every part of Lebanon has its own feel, and I find so much inspiration just by being here,” she says. “I spent a few years in the States, but I came back just before the explosion – I felt the urge to be back with my people.” This is in reference to the devastating events of 4 August 2020, when a large amount of ammonium nitrate unsafely stored at the Port of Beirut exploded, resulting in at least 218 fatalities and thousands of injuries.
In recent years, Lebanon has also grappled with political and economic crises, notably the October 2019 revolution, marked by widespread protests and demands for political reform, economic transparency, and an end to corruption. These events led many in the creative community to seek stability elsewhere. However, Beirut remains a city teeming with life and history, and artists such as Hilal were, and continue to be, determined to stay – using their creativity as a form of protest and expressing their commitment to the city.
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Hilal’s work is rooted in collaging – starting with one image and breaking it down to reveal different perspectives. Through her lens, she aims to capture the many layers of Lebanese society, focusing on the diverse experiences of women through photography. “For me, an image isn’t complete until it’s manipulated, much like life itself,” she says. “Life is complex: never a clean cut, never a straight path. So I aim to give an image a different perspective.”
Hilal feels a responsibility to drive change, believing this is tied to her Lebanese identity. “Every day is uncertain, and this uncertainty is something that inspires me,” she remarks. “We have lots of stories to tell, and because we are a small country, it’s often hard to find people that will listen.”
Through her photography, she narrates the stories of Lebanon’s past and present generations, creating a new narrative embedded in hope, beauty, and creativity.
Yasmina Hilal’s Guide To Beirut…
Where To Stay In Beirut
Arthaus – In the bohemian district of Gemmayze, boutique hotel Arthaus hosts a collection of archaeological artefacts and rare books, as well as an extensive collection of local Roman mosaics.
The Arts And Culture Spots To Visit In Beirut
- Art – Sursock Museum, Mineral Museum, National Museum of Beirut, Beirut Art Center, Zalfa Halabi Art Gallery, Août Gallery, Art on 56th.
- Theatre – Zoukak Theater, dedicated to using theatre practice as social and political activism.
- Music – Metro Al Madina, which hosts beautiful music events from different genres across the region.)
Where To Hang Out And Work In Beirut
- Beirut Printmaking Studio – An inclusive and open space for people from all walks of life interested in discovering, learning, and practising art through printed image. “I often use the darkroom here, it is a place I spent a lot of time creating and developing my work – they are a second family to me.”
- Beirut Synthesizer Center – An informal co-op for electronic music enthusiasts, amateurs, musicians, artists, makers and researchers to exchange expertise, discover instruments, and collaborate on music and sound making. “I take workshops here and use their great library of instruments.”
- Haven For Artists – A cultural feminist organisation working at the intersection of art and activism. The physical and digital platform supports cultural works and knowledge production rooted in intersectional feminism, gender and racial justice, and decolonial practices. “Again, I love to take workshops here and spend time with other artists.”
- Creative Space Beirut School of Design – A tuition-free school for fashion design. “Although it is a school, it is a space which many of us in the community use – we are all a family, and we all support each other’s work.”
Where To Eat Traditional Food In Beirut
- Varouj – “An authentic Armenian ‘Mom and Pop’ restaurant.”
- Badguèr – “A restaurant and a promotional centre for artisans and creativity. Located in a pink house in Bourj Hammoud, it has accumulated many relics of Armenia’s heritage.”
- Kebbet Zamen – “Lebanese food known for the Kibbe [a dish of ground meat and grain] from the north of the country.”
- Al Soussi – “Go for authentic Lebanese breakfast – eggs, hummus etc.”
- Abou Chadi – “Has the best manoushe in town.”
- Lekmet Em Ali – The best saj sandwiches [wraps], from the South.”
More Places To Eat And Drink In Beirut
- Coffee Shops – Sip Coffee, Bn Coffee Bar, Bundt Bakery, Kalei Coffee Co, Neighborhood and Levant, a Lebanese pastry shop.
- Food – Le Chef, Aaliya’s Books (a bookshop, book club and community hub for people to eat and drink), Joulias, Odette’s Mexican Taqueria, Jai Kitchen, Mavia Bakery (a social enterprise Bakery supporting Syrian workers).
Pia Brynteson is Digital Editor at Service95