Summertime Stories: Amar Zahr

Laura Beaney

August 14th 2017

Returning home from a summer spent as an artist in residency amid Istanbul’s Gezi Park riots, Amar Zahr was prompted to establish her city’s own artists’ think tank. Her initiative crucially connects Beirut’s thriving creative community with residents from diverse artistic backgrounds and far-flung locales. Here, the creative recounts to MOJEH the summer that sparked this light bulb moment. 

Amar Zahar photographed by Colette Alexa in the Lebanese mountains
Amar Zahar photographed by Colette Alexa in the Lebanese mountains.

In May 2013, I made the decision to drop everything. I dropped my corporate job, familiar routine, and comfort zone to embark on the biggest change of my life. I was working in media at the time, but my heart was torn between developing my practice as an artist and working in contemporary art. I had heard about artist residency programmes in the past but didn’t fully understand their function or impact on both society and individuals alike. On a whim I applied to a programme in Istanbul, which is, for me, one of the most inspiring cities. I didn’t have a strong ne arts background, exhibition history or even a de nitive practice, but I anticipated that a residency would help me gure out who I was as an artist.

As the date approached, I prepared for practically everything; I had planned what I wanted to spend the next two months working on and had pitched the project to the residency who seemed very keen on supporting me. Upon arriving to this heaping dichotomy of East-meets- West, inspiration was owing and I nally had the time, space and right amount of isolation to focus on myself and my art.

A week into my project, the 2013 Gezi Park riots erupted across Istanbul. With the residency just a stone’s throw away from the park, I had no choice but to bear witness to the upheaval. The whole city came alive in a way that was both terrifying and invigorating. The staff and friends that I had met during my rst days at the residency were demonstrating on the streets day and night. Being Lebanese, and barely involved in the politics of my own city, I felt completely out of place and kept a safe distance from the demonstrations.

One day, tear gas seeped through the fastened windows while I was painting in my ground oor studio. That was when I realised I could no longer isolate myself from the chaos enwreathing the walls around me, and I didn’t want to. Armed with nothing but a Canon 5D, I joined the revolutionaries and took to the streets. The work I created during the experience was inextricably linked from the protests and wouldn’t have been conceived without it. This experience not only took me completely out of my comfort zone but it also shaped what I wanted to do in the future. Two years later I founded the Beirut Art Residency, which aims to bring international artists to Lebanon, take them out of their comfort zone and facilitate an environment where they can be as inspired as I was.