"The day before the budget vote, when I saw these concrete blocks being consolidated around Place de l'Etoile (Nejmeh Square) after more than 100 days of demonstrations, I felt the urge to force them down. To crack open these walls behind which the Members of Parliament are taking refuge in order to go on with their shenanigans, all the while remaining deaf to the legitimate demands of a good part of the Lebanese population. This is the feeling that I wanted to draw in We Shall Pass”, said the artist. She added: "I also wanted this representation to be a sign of encouragement and hope addressed to all the demonstrators. A way to encourage them to persist in their protest movement, not to be put down, to believe in their strength which can break the walls of fear ... "
The 33-year-old woman, who has participated in the demonstrations since the very first days of the revolution, admits to having more figurative broken walls by throwing herself wholeheartedly into the protest movement. The revolution – that made her want to scream and shout with anger-, also brought her out of her cocoon, and liberated her from her apprehensions - as an artist seeking perfection - who kept on postponing the encounter between her work and the public. "I'm not someone who craves visibility”, she says, surprised as how easy it has been for her to launch into street art since the beginning of the revolution. In fact, when it broke out on October 17, Roula Abdo was putting the final touches on her first ever large urban mural. A work spread out over the side of a 30-meter high building in the heart of Hamra Street, -an initiative launched by the NGO Art of Change-, which pays tribute to female empowerment, through the amalgamated faces of Huguette Caland and Emily Nasrallah. “I was also preparing my first individual exhibition. I left everything to take to the streets, as a citizen first and foremost. I was so happy to join this crowd of fellow citizens, who just like me, were finally fighting for their most basic rights. Then, with a group of artists gathered under the banner of Art of Change, we decided to create, each with his/her own style and personal way of expression, “Walls of the Revolution” which would bear witness to this wind of change that we are all seeking and demanding”, she says.
The revolution at the tip of a brush
The young woman has big, serene eyes and a pretty face. She wears glasses and she seems wise and astute. As of October 25, 2019, Roula Abdo began drawing and expressing -all over the walls of the capital- her own rebellion, her demands, and her hopes. With her very first statement "El Hekem Sar Lal Cha3b" (Power is Now to the People) that she spray painted on the walls of the ESCWA building at Riad el-Solh, in the form of a woman surrounded by a group of individuals holding hands she began her personal journey of protest.
Ever since, Roula Abdo has led her revolution with the help of a paintbrush and a color bomb, leaving behind her visual imprints, strong most of the time, sometimes ironic, and at others, just simply reunifying and touching people, just like the ones on the Ring, at the Martyrs’ and Riad el-Solh Squares, on the premises of the central headquarters of Electricité du Liban, and like the one at ESCWA one. Last but not least, she has been active in other major sites of the protest movement as well: Tripoli, where she painted the poignant face of a child with the words "Kezbon Jawa3na" (Their lies starved us), and also in Khaldeh where, "shaken up by the death of the protester Alaa Abu Fakhr", during the aftermath of the tragedy she rushed in order to paint the portrait of this "martyr of the revolution", on the very spot where he was killed.
A mocking eye towards the powers in place
As soon as she feels "impacted or moved" by an event, or an episode related to the thawra, Roula, who participates almost daily in protest movements -whether it’s rainy or windy-, climbs on a ladder and starts putting into images and words, the ideas, feelings and convictions that run through her. She does this without being disturbed or distracted by the incursions of mobs armed with sticks, or even by the presence of the security forces… It is to the latter that she has dedicated one of her paintings on the parapet of the Ring’s bridge, which depicts a man with eyes wide open holding a cedar tree, and the directive "Waa aala Watanak" (Wake up and look at the state of your country) ... And to their chiefs, the trompe-l'oeil of a male silhouette, head pushed into the wall, -which can be seen from the side of the Azarieh building in the downtown area-, next to this is written: "The power is running straight into the wall ..."
As a result, and in less than four months, Roula Abdo has her signature on a dozen murals (including a painting on the pavement of al-Thawra Ounsa (The Revolution is a Woman), which was executed on the occasion of the women's march), and the last of which was done a few days ago again around the area of the Parliament, representing an eye spying through a keyhole… A jab at those MPs, those pseudo-representatives of the people whose fear has pushed them to squirrel themselves away behind thicker and thicker walls, and who as a result, have become the prisoners of their own confinement...
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 3rd of February)
Right in the heart of downtown Beirut, one can hardly miss these two big hands that seem to push the high concrete panels that are blocking access to the Parliament back from both ends; the hands are trying hard to create a passageway. Impossible to miss on social media is a picture of this powerful mural that has gone viral, and which is nicknamed We Shall Pass by its creator. A picture, which...