Saturday, July 31, 2021

Meet Cosette from the Yes ad

Well, that was a voice drilled into generations of Lebanese! The woman whose in  laws "invited themselves to dinner" and who had a dirty table cloth, a soiled floor and a mountain of unwashed dishes. Enter the iconic Robert Helou better known as Abou Fouad who solves the issue with his Yes (3 in 1) recommendation. So here she is via Dalal Mawad on Instagram - a total blast from the past - and much appreciated one at that. Mr. Helou sadly passed away in 2018 so it is wonderful to have Cosette who is now 85 with us!

Friday, July 30, 2021

This August 4th, many emotions will be for sale.

Beirut Port 1955 - Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

The August 4th one year commemoration is upon us very soon. And I am dreading it.

All right, facts first: No it was not a picnic for me on that day as I almost died twice (look here). And following the explosion I had a period where details would slip my mind - did I pay the pharmacist? (yes and she gave me change), what was the name of - yes, the brunette one who took my course, no no the other one? (Sarah). 

And so on. Now, the symptoms in question disappeared not long after. Well, I was born in 1974, 6 months prior to start of the war. In other words, I escaped death too many times to count (like every other Lebanese), and I witnessed explosions which were (almost) just as mighty as the August 4 (the Dora fuel tanks explosion in 1989 comes to mind), witnessed severe shelling, and the list continues.

Let me tell you about this incident. Right after the "big" (1975-1990) war ended, while asleep in our bedroom suddenly there were repeated flashes of light - first reflex, the shelling has started! But there was no sound this time around. My mind raced to find an answer and my brother visibly shaken asked me "what is that?". "It's the flashlight of the camera in the wedding in the Mattar building, let's go back to sleep". 

Now, on August 4, I was in Beirut with my friend Michel. It was his first major explosion (he is considerably younger than me). He really stopped functioning. As soon as the explosion happened and we escaped unharmed, I told him "hold my hand and follow me". We followed the ABC Verdun mall evacuation line which was incredibly efficient, and when we got to the car I said "now drive". Several hours later, when we got to Jdeideh (mind you leaving Achrafieh itself took about 5 and a half hours due to all the glass on the streets and torn windows and doors scattered all over), he started to become functional again. Though he refused to go back to the mall afterwards - by that I mean 3 months later.

Now, what does all of this has to do with me dreading the August 4th commemoration? 

Because anyone who is anyone is going to start reminiscing on traumas real and imagined, will start pouring out words on social media which contribute nothing to those whose lives were lost or irretrievably damaged (I think of Mohamed Da'douey who lost his vision in one eye, has a partial vision in the other, had his leg amputated, and an arm with no sensation whatsoever). But again, I brace for the flood of people who will tell stories which are half real and half invented, who will force their misery (again real or fake) on the rest of us, the professional mourners and those lowest-common-denominator word peddlers on social media (no name but they sicken me).

My late father used to repeat a saying that went:

يللي رقصو باهدن هن ذاتن يللي بكيو بزغرتا

Those who danced in Ehden are the same ones who shed tears in Zgharta. 

Mind you, Ehden and Zgharta are the same town, and my father was implying that emotions can easily be sold and bought.

This August 4th many emotions will be on sale.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Tiffany & Co - not your mother's brand.

It all started with "Not your father's Oldsmobile".

"Not your mother's Tiffany" - Tiffany & Co just unveiled their first post-LVMH acquisition campaign. Mark Riston loves it, Quirino Malandrino is appalled (both are communication giants). Well, to begin with, I am not the correct target audience for the campaign, so I am a bit torn as to the relevance of what I am saying (to quote the sitcom friends "No uterus, no opinion"). 

The campaign goes after young women (the ones featured in the ads are all 20 something self-confident females), telling them that Tiffany has indeed evolved and changed since their mother's days. With a new generation ditching "classic" wedding bands in the US, with many no longer interested in family heirloom jewelry, it seems fitting that LVMH wants to dust a brand which is no longer "cool". Mind you if you look at other brands within the LVMH stable - there is a very discernable pattern: Louis Vuitton has gone full Virgil Abloh and is now having a Nike Air Force 1 sneaker and an NBA product tie up, Celine has ditched the Phoebe Philo philosophy to go after the cool-trust-fund kids with Hedi Slimane, Kenzo has little if anything to do it with its own founder's principles. 

Truth be told however, Antoine Arnault, the son of Bernard Arnault who is the CEO of LVMH, did a superb job revitalizing luggage brand Rimowa, and is now the man handling Tiffany. Mind you there are ways and others of revitalizing a brand. When Hermes hired Martin Margiela as a creative director Jean-Louis Dumas the then chairman of Hermes asked the designer if he was going to cut the (famous handbag model) Kelly in two. What Margiela did however is produce what is now highly-saught after collections for the brand. He also introduced a 6-hole button which when sewn would produce the letter "H" in threads. 

But I digress.

Perhaps the whole point of the Tiffany campaign is simply to make ink spill about it - which works well (consider this article as an example!). LVMH has rescued many brands from dustiness - who knows? They might pull a miracle with the stale Emilio Pucci. If non-LVMH owned Courreges is any measure, 60s esthetic is currently all the rage. 

Small note, Oldsmobile is dead. So I am wishing Tiffany all the best.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Casper & Gambini's - 25th year anniversary

Casper & Gambini's are celebrating their 25th anniversary! If I understood correctly they licensed their name all across the region, the brand still has a very respectable resonance. A google search tells me about their current whereabouts in Lebanon (I am not the typical audience for going out, mind you). On all accounts, the film is dipped in sepia colors, is incredibly well art-directed by Maya Metni, breathes homeliness, breezes with authenticity and is both a celebration of the staff (with many of them appearing in an earlier still campaign), and the customers alike (hello Sandra!) who are younger than the average Casper crowd. But in all honesty, if we are celebrating memories, the film works perfectly with the ambiance, colors, shades and otherwise general vibe hitting the correct notes.

So here we are - on to the next 25! See the full film here.

On the Nawwar Al-Sahili case: the Lebanons of to have and have not.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

So marriage season is in full swing. A lovely bride got married in a very lavish wedding. So far so good.

Except the bride in question is the daughter of ex-MP Nawwar Al-Sahili who was representing the Hizbullah party, and who is known to abide by their strict interpretation of conservative social norms (including in his own companies women having to be veiled, absence of alcohol, lack of music....). In Islamic tradition the expenses of the wedding fall on the groom's family. In this case the groom was the grandson of Abdallah El Yafi a former prime minister of Lebanon, and he happens to be the brother of Sarah El Yafi who set the social media ablaze considering she is an activist and academic in her incredibly sharp and eloquent analysis of the situation in Lebanon on Western media.

Now the whole country went berserk about the wedding. To begin with, on the defending camp, there are those who say that the bride in question is his daughter from his ex who lives in London, and that she was brought up under very liberal values which show in her wedding dress which was a strapless affair and bits of video where is asking for "Tequila for Joe (Ashkar - the singer who entertained the wedding)". Plus, the idea that it was the groom's family who paid for the - truly luxurious - party, and whereby the bride's family is simply considered "guests" (as per the affirmation of ex-MP Sahili himself in a text exchange which was posted online). Granted, the father of the bride was wearing a bowtie which is frowned upon in the conservative interpretation of social clothing in the Hizbollah social community.

Now, on the attacking camp, there are those who say he should not have paid for such a very elaborate wedding (he did not), and that there is a clear double standard whereby he restricts alcohol, imposes veils and conservative dressing in his companies only to have his daughter openly consume champagne, ask for tequila, and otherwise be shown in a wedding dress which is Islamically incompatible. All this at a time when Lebanese people are dying from hunger (literally) and are being subjected to electricity and fuel cuts all while no longer affording basic items.

Interestingly, nowhere online did I find anyone objecting to the bride being Shiite and the groom being Sunnite, which I thought people would be upset about as is the usual norm in Lebanon, but I digress.

Well, truth be told, I do not mind the wedding, and I am in the mind of "if you've got it, flaunt it" - meaning these people (again, here I speak of the groom's family) seem to have money by the bucket load (though I honestly never thought Sarah El Yafi with all her supposedly "anti-establishment" inclinations comes from such a moneyed background) so why not celebrate a family wedding as they wish it. Al-Sahili apologized for the wedding actually and left the decision about his fate in the hands of the party. Sure, truth be told, socially, it is a bit of a faux pas when it comes to the sensitivity of the people drowning in poverty.

But then again, this is Lebanon: A land where the have and have nots cohabitate so closely that anything is bound to overlap.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Omega: an ad without words that leaves me speechless.

There: Perfect marks.

And if you can't understand this ad, no amount of explaining can get it through to you.


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Almaza goes to the wedding season

So it is wedding season again - despite covid, despite financial crashes, despite political economic and financial woes Lebanon is embroiled in. And Almaza is a witness (har har!) to it. So "everyone is burning up to get married and we are just chill". Oh well, a very timely ad in a season buzzing with differed weddings from last  year, pandemic oblige (thankfully I am not invited!). Still ad works and is right bang on time. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Smash Plus anti mosquito - made in Lebanon

Well, now is the time to encourage anything made in Lebanon as it is the only way to go out of the rentier economy we plunged in for several decades which crippled the economy. Which brings us to "Smash Plus" - the anti mosquito made in Lebanon which is a welcome change from other imported brands (you know which ones I speak of!). Now the ad speaks of "fortified protection for you and your family" (interestingly the Arabic language makes a clear distinction when speaking to males and females and this one was kept neutral by avoiding the distinction emphasis through "annotation" or "7arakat" as they are known in Arabic). The background is a stack of such tablets so that they would appear as "bricks" of a wall (fortified protection, remember?) and on the whole, the ad by its mere existence in a market which I already called flatlined is a welcome addition.

Aishti by the sea goes... to the sea!

In a surprise to no one, Aishti by the sea goes to the sea in its new campaign. What is interesting for me, above all, is that Aishti - the country's most luxurious retailer - has a campaign to begin with. At this stage, prices even at your run of the mill shop are so expensive, Aishti is - by all means and measures - totally and completely out of reach even to aspiring consumers (believe it or not, this place now goes to Zara!) and to what is left of the Middle Class (see here for clarification) and its large and very intimidating architecture does not help (again see here). Still, Aishti and its flagship store (and its other stand alone shops) in downtown suffered major damage (including many employees being injured and the stores being too close to the epicenter of the August 4 2020 blast, rendering them literally inoperable for a long time). But in Lebanon, where the ad market flatlined, any new campaign is much welcome. No matter its target audience or to whom it addresses itself or how creative it is. Which is why Aishti dipping its toes again in an ad campaign is quite welcome.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

George Kordahi and Credit FInancier Invest: a repeat of the Wahid Jalal experience?

Long, long time ago Tele Liban had a major hit on its hands, the program "Hakamat Al Makmaka" (the tribunal had judged). The program ran for 5 years straight making Wahid Jalal a major smash hit in Lebanon since he was the lead "lawyer" of the program. Jalal once had a major job opportunity, a leading law firm in Lebanon wanted to recruit him. His reply was "I am an actor, I know nothing about law!" to which the owner of the firm said "who said anything about law, all you have to do is just sit there!". Which brings us to Credit Financier Invest and George Kordahi.
CFI (Credit Financier Invest) is a registered Forex (Foreign Exchange) company. They recruited major pan-Arab media personality George Kordahi to represent them. Mind you Kordahi is charistmatic, easy of the eye, mature, trusted which makes him a very good fit. But his only "financial" credits is that he presented the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" program in the Arab world, which is akin to saying "all you have to do is just sit there!". Truth be told Kordahi does more than sitting, he strolls on yachts in Dubai in their ads, does the whole the she bang of looking at his computer in a Cadillac Escalade, and acts convincingly.
Still, I cannot but think that his only link to money is the "Millionaire" program.... 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Monochrome, a Lebanese product launches to zen fanfare.

Monochrome has been (finally) launched after months of teasing. What is it? It is defined as "created by Lebanese hearts, crafted by Lebanese hands". In essence in it a brand of intimates - with the first drop comprising of white, black, grey products from tank tops, to t-shirts, trunks, briefs and towels. The brand is exceptionally low key as their own instagram demonstrates it (look here).

Launched by social media experts, Monochrome is the distilled tasted of people - who in their own words - "always been fashion fans and all things beautiful, but we never thought we’d launch our own collection!" Interestingly, it is the insane price of all things imported which "led [them] to create [their] own collection of basics, crafted by Lebanese hands!"
They pledge to keep the price as affordable as possible, insisting that their own "reward is to bring you that happy feeling each time you wear a Monochrome piece". Considering this is a bold endeavor, it is perhaps right to "talk about them and share them as much as you can!"

Monochrome can be purchased here.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Mercedes Benz Middle East - Superb Eid greetings.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how we do it.

Mercedes Benz Middle East comes with the most equisite Eid el Adha greetings, emphasizing how much their product is a part of the pop cultural mesh of the region, along with (expected but right bang on target) typography, along with lovely but simply copy. I know, this is too much lavish for a 4-panel ad, but it is indeed worth it, especially that lately there is almost no such ads in Lebanon almost at all. Still, I thought the effort - specifically the pop art angle - was worth it from Mercedes, a brand truly part of the every day life of the region. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Ford (almost) launches a fragrance: Mach-Eau

If you miss the smell of almondy Benzaldehyde and Para-Cresol (the first is the petrol smell, the second rubber tires), Ford is here to the rescue.... Apparently the name of their "fragrance" is Mach-Eau which is supposed to riff on the name of their Mach-E model (but how far is it from Macho? - seriously people!). Just in case you were wondering the smell also blends more traditional scents such as lavender, geranium, sandalwood, and blue ginger. Sandalwood apparently remind you of "horses". Apparently, according to Ford, 70% of people will miss the smell of gasoline once they switch to an Electric Vehicle. So voila, for the nostalgic ones, Mach-Eau is here for you.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Hariri - father and son: Same sentence, different wordings.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

November 2004, Rafic Hariri:

إني استودع الله هذا الوطن الحبيب لبنان

July 2021, Saad Hariri:

الله يعين البلد

The first sentence roughly means "I place this beloved country as a deposit in the hands of God", the second "may God help this country".
Essentially, the late father, and the son (both were head of governments as it seems hereditary in Lebanon), were saying the same thing in different words. But it also underscores what the father had and the son lacked: An incredible charisma. When his guard was down, Rafic Hariri was a very likeable man. Asked during an interview what he did when he got he did when he earned his first million, he said "I went to the mirror and patted my own shoulder, and then I said "now go and lose a few kilos!"". So again, whereas the two men meant the same thing, one - the father - was able to articulate it in a way that still resonates, worded it in a very languishingly eloquent way. The son was more blunt.
Perhaps - sometimes - it is all in the way one puts things, as the message will still be understood.
(Disclosure: I have interviewed Saad Hariri previously on one on one basis for a project pertaining to a client of mine)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

In advertising and in Lebanon: Problems shared are not problems halved.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Prologue: Recently, my very exciting life has been centering around locating boxes of medicine (chiefly for mother, less so for me). 

All of this reminded me of a WhatsApp conversation I had with someone, who - when I told him about me frantically looking for the medicine in question, said (and I am quoting the conversation as it happened), "everyone is in the same boat, we all have that problem". Truth be told, it was the umpteenth time the person in question implied that since everyone had the same problem, it is no longer a problem (we previously discussed bank accounts, fuel, etc...).

What surprised me what the snap of an answer I gave him (which I did not for other issues), and here too am quoting from a conversation in writing: "Yes, but she is still MY mother, it is still HER health, she is still under MY care, and if other people cannot locate THEIR meds, this does not solve MY conundrum". I suppose all these capital letters gave the person the hint and he changed topics.

Still, it is true, I am someone who is extremely capable, who is always there solving problems, scotch taping situations, or as my kind Dutch friend said yesterday "from a distance you look rather balanced" (the distance in question was Amsterdam - Beirut mind you), to which I replied "OK, then hand me the Oscar for my performance". How other Lebanese are reacting to their problems, truth be told, involves hoopla and festivities at gas stations (see here).

Now, I can see the logic of not worrying about locating medicines. It is out of my control, it is under the helm of cartels who are hoarding them to benefit from potential higher prices, it is being smuggled out of Lebanon, etc... But honestly, when you are down to 2 last pills, I cannot not worry.

Well, advertising has built a full industry out of that. If you have a problem, then other people having it does not diminish yours. Constipation? Sore throat? Lack of housing? Old unreliable car? Leaking roof? Keeping up with the Joneses? We all shared such problems at one point, and advertisers found that miracle formula: What applies to you applies to me as well. And if we share that problem, mine does not diminish yours and just like public goods in economics, my own consumption does not diminish yours (theoretically at least, "while supplies last" - as any advertising lawyer would tell you to place such a disclaimer).

Epilogue: 11 days after the start of the quest, and in a deus ex machina move, our capable village pharmacist found me the long-lost elusive box of meds in question (the one of which my mother only had two pills left). Granted, the box had an expiry date of July 2021, and it was delivered on July 13, but like everything else, expiry date gives you a leeway of about 3 months, so we're on the safe side (at least for this month).

Friday, July 9, 2021

Habibti Pada: Ameen Beydoun scripts a sparse but emphatic graphic novel.

Ameen Beydoun had a marionette puppet in his room, and his aunt had an abstract sculpture at her house. Both would cause him irrational fear that adults never understood. In my case, it was the bullet hole in the shutters in my parents' bedroom right opposite my bed as a child, and the Djinniya in the Sindibad anime. Every child had such a fear. Compound it with moving from Africa to Lebanon, being the only person in a dark skin in your classroom, and much like Calvin and Hobbes - having a fertile imagination. All this, blended, gives you the first book in the series "Habibti Pada: Yalla" scripted by Ameen and illustrated by Ismael Hernández.

For all its empathy, research, and work involved, I am going to start by the work's flaw: What we call "the font did not open" syndrome. Words written in Arabic were written in disjointed letters as opposed to how correctly Arabic is written - with the letters seamlessly joined to one another (the root of this could be a simple PDF flaw or something deeper). As a small comparison Craig Thompson actually learned Arabic to be able to write "Habibi" - Ameen showed me perfect screenshots of the gibberish images but try as I might, my own remained in detached and reversed letters. Of course, any person unable to read Arabic would not notice (case in point, how such signs are written in American series), but anyone who does will find it rather embarrassing.

Still, the "Habibti Pada: Yalla" is a book that explores the universe of children, through their eyes, and is even kind to adults as well (when Pada tells her father she does not "understand this place" he replies with "we are the same"). It also explores issues of bullying (the whole class laughing at Pada when she cannot write her name on the board in Arabic), racism (one of the boys saying he is "going to teach that black girl"), and a hoard of other social angles - with of course, the ability to see and fight monsters everywhere. 

Apparently this is a series of books, because we are already promised to meet Kimani, Pada's brother, and his special soccer-ball. The title of the next book is "Shou Ismeek?" (what's your name?). 

Perhaps Pada will have more friends and allies, but one thing is for sure, Pada will meet a new monster, the one living on the first floor of their building.

You can buy the book directly from this link.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Saudi Tourism: Islamically compliant fun

Look you have to hand it out to them - making Islamically compliant tourism fun is no mean feat, yet Saudi Tourism does exactly that in an ad which is fantastically well edited (OK, fine the technique was used to the best effect by Nike prior - look here) but still credit is due for finding perfectly matching scenes which illustrate different aspects of Saudi landscapes and activities whether you are young and single (males only in the car though) or a family (which is how usually everything in Saudi is divided). And truthfully having had a stint in Saudi prior, I can tell you there is indeed much to do.

But again, the ad is incredibly well researched and executed all while still being Islamically compliant (while at the beach, a woman has only her feet showing as the rest is in a white linen tunic, or while riding an ATV the girl is still wearing a black abaya, or as I said previously, the segregation between young single males and families). Still the ad is alluring, charming and reveals the many things to do in Saudi.

I could have a question though about its target audience, which leaves me a little confused. If non-Arabs are targeted, despite all its lovely scenes, they might be a little baffled as to the implicit restrictions. Now, if Arabs from the Gulf nations are, this is par for the course for them. Perhaps, quite simply, their target are local Saudis who are invited to discover more of their country... Still, a very well done ad.

See it in full here.

Johnnie Walker Black Label and the perfect ad for its product.

Now, the price of. a Johnnie Walker Black Label may be out of the reach of the average human in Lebanon (check it here) but the ad has surely impressed me. It exudes everything Black Label is: elegance, a certain "flanerie", a minimal view of life where luxury is simple but very sophisticated (remind me of that Piaget ad "la meilleur facon de porter un Piaget c'est de n'en rien montrer"), and to go back to that gorgeous magazine Hermes issued with one of their previous collections (summer 2012): Le temps devant soi. A book where nothing happens.

Which is why this ad is a perfect capsule for the Black Label. This person is a far cry from the Red Label garden variety of consumers. His taste is more refined, he reached it by climbing the ladder ever so slowly. He earned it rather. Everything else in the ad shows it. The subtle art deco touches, the marble on the wall, small details that exude a way of life. Even with Lebanon experiencing a financial crash, this person either forecasted the crisis (sadly, am trying to imagine they did not smuggle their money after the crash began), or even in the deepest of dark moments knows that a glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label could save the day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Creme de la Creme: Ahmed Amer upcycles at Depot Vente Beirut

Very few people fall under the multi-hyphenate umbrella, but Ahmed Amer certainly does. He graduated in Architecture in 2014 with a focus on interiors, then eventually in fashion design in 2017 - just to give you an analogy Raf Simons himself started as a furniture designer and the late GianFranco Ferre was an architect, before they both drifted into the fashion world.
The collection which Amer will exhibit on July 9th from 2 to 5 is this year's second venturing from Depot Vente (spearheaded by the incomparable Nawal!) into upcycling after ReBird and that stunning collection by Rayya Morcos. But truth be told, both collections cannot be compared. Amer's own effort is called "Creme de la Creme". "The name came from the irony of the condition we are living in right now in Lebanon.... "Nawal seemed to have a lot of white pieces I could work with, and it all went from there. Sure, after a while, I brought some colors to soften the monotony". What both, Morcos and Amer have in common though is talking to an alternative consumer.
"Basically all of the pieces of the collection are gender-neutral" says Amer. A particular item drew my attention, on the top it is a t-shirt, and on the bottom it is sewn on what could easily be a skirt with buttons on the front. The interesting part, the garment is exceptionally long. "Yes, I wanted to photograph it on a man, I thought about a man wearing it". Well, let us be honest, Lebanon, for all its liberal image, does tend to be quite conservative still. "True" agrees Amer, "I think in recent times the only breather queer people had was when the "thawra" began, there was a safe space for them - not just a personal hiding safe space, no a public one - and their voices were heard" then he continues "well, for a while at least, then with lockdown things went back to what they used to be/"
Amer says that for him, at time he wishes to express his feminine identity, and at others less so. "Actually often times when I am creating a one on one piece, I do it my size as I like to see it on me. Then when I put it on Instagram, orders start rolling in all shapes and sizes. I was factoring plus sizes way before the industry woke up to it."
Yet during our meeting he was dressed in sneakers, casual shorts and a striped yellow and white t-shirt: "Yes, functionality trumps design always in my case, if I am not comfortable I cannot be creative, and indeed I think the same about my items. Now of course, some people are comfortable "inside" in high heels, but that is a different kind of comfort," he said as he directed the couturiere on how to sue a specific item which checking how two items look fused on the table. "In that perspective, I am like those people who wear black to be able to deflect the light on their creations."
Asked which designers he loves, he answers without hesitation "Yohji". To anyone working or interesting in fashion, there could only be one "Yohji" or simply Yamamoto. "I go back to the concept of comfort, you could see 15 different people wearing the same Yamamoto garment in his fashion shows and it looks different on each one of them".
Amer did a small upcycling project which remained under the radar due to lockdown. After the August 4 explosion, a furniture textile supplier had his stock damaged and Amer worked his magic on the remnant pieces, "which makes Creme de la Creme my second attempt". But Depot Vente being Depot Vente, the price margins - somewhere between 80,000 Liras and 300,000 (peanuts by today's standards!) - are way less than the Amer mainline which basically goes for 500 Dollars or more.
Actually Amer already collaborated with the hip store Santiago and with the HHBrand funky shoe line, "and other designers asked about using my illustrations in their works". The said illustrations, minimal with a hint of Picasso, are already being embroidered by Amer in his own collections. "As a matter of fact - prior to architecture and fashion - it is the illustration that is my main interest" he says me as he points to an Instagram video of him working on an A0 size enormous work which apparently was sold to a collector in New York.
"I am also very interested in dance as well," he says matter-of-factly as it was a simple continuation to his artistic ventures. Amer does have many strings to his bow, yet they all come from the same organized space in his mind. The interview drifted off as Amer focused on more and more pieces he was creating for the trunk show on Friday. You can follow Amer on Instagram here.
Creme de la Creme indeed.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

On the two Lebanons living on my Instagram

So yesterday as I was scrolling through my Instagram in the stories section someone posted some alarming statistics "Lebanon: Nearly 80 percent of households do not have food or money to buy food, UN warns". A very startling figure to put it mildly, which can easily explain some of the social agitation, tire-burning, road-closing the country is seeing as of late (I say "some" as to quote another person "chaos is never innocent"). 

But Instagram is also obviously advertising-based. So right next to the image showing the UN statistics, there was an ad for a very upscale internet-only app-based salad bar. You know the kind, the one that sells keto and paleo-diet based dishes (I am not inventing this, this is the label of the advertised dishes), vegetarian-only portions, or gluten-free items, and which has "influencers" peddling its products all over their account and the list continues.

I am a very basic eater mind you, though surprisingly due to my weight which has drastically gone down due to diabetes, I tend to go for large portions. But picky I am not. So it is a bit surprising how come I was targeted by that ad especially that none of my scrolling involves food. Still, I checked the online store and a meal for a regular family (provided they would appreciate tastes such a little off their usual menu) would set you back easily around 600,000 Liras - considering the minimum wage in Lebanon is 675,000 Liras, you do the math.

Just to be clear, this is by no means a criticism but rather a description. Long, long ago, a journalist criticized me for saying this sentence (although she gave a glowing review of my first solo show back in 2002). But I keep standing by it. If you have the means to afford a meal from such a shop, then by all means enjoy it. But also this is the same country where around 80 percent do not have food or money for food (if you look closer to the statistics they are even more distressing - 30% of children are missing an essential meal every day, 60% of families are buying food on credit, and 15% stopped sending their children to school while 25% cannot afford tools for online learning).

But this is Lebanon. Lebanons, plural. Of course, every country has these disparities, but Lebanon has the disadvantage of being too small geographically, and such disparities are there, naked to the eye, too close to be hidden. Paleo diet and no diet coexisting in a small space which is too narrow on the bird's eye view.

Yet, to quote that well-to-do girl who was sitting in a trendy pub in Gemmayze when asked about what was happening in the Southern suburb of Beirut in 2006 (basically the suburb was being pummeled by Israeli airstrikes practically flattening it almost entirely), her ennui-filled answer was: "Je m'en fous".

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Lebanon's History: a Simulacrum by Tarek Chemaly, now available in film and books format

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

So here we are ladies and gentlemen, "The History of Lebanon: a Simulacrum" by Tarek Chemaly, has been fully released. 

In Arabic the title is: تاريخ لبنان - نسخة من دون اصل

The work is released in film format (here) and in a series of books of 14 volumes (here).

I do hope you enjoy them as much as I did creating them.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Malik's Bookshop - 250 Liras!

Well, nothing is left for 250 Liras in Lebanon which now accounts to literal pennies in Dollars with the USD climbing and climbing. But not so fast! Malik's Bookshop to the rescue! In an ad straight from the 80s slapstick (exaggerated manners and attitude in photography to the point of kitsch and super figurativeness) - the ad announces that printing at Malik's starts at 250 Liras (I am assuming it is the page print but I digress. Still, it was important enough to do a campaign for it (near universities - smart move!) and basically occupy some of the empty billboards.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Stand for women x Dare women - local "entrepreneuses" for the win!

Cynthia Chamat Debbane in happier times at the store

I was the before the last client of Boutique Hub. on August 4th - yes, that August 4th 2020. Actually I had met Cynthia Chamat Debbane online prior - about 4-5 months prior. The connection was instant, about 10 minutes later we were comparing medical records. Long story short, and though she never saw me prior, as soon as I entered her boutique in Sodeco Square (despite all our back and forth talk), she smiled broadly and said: "Oh it's you! No, wait. How do I know it's you?"

Suffice to say that Cynthia and her brother Bechara did a major rescue operation for the material that was present at the boutique. They did not even wait for August 5th to do it. What was there was moved in the dead of the night on August 4th for fear it might be subject to theft or looting (with one of them standing vigil at the shop as the other loaded a van). Especially that "Boutique Hub." (yes written with a point a the end) housed - at the time - the designs done by 40+ local Lebanese designers, all of them of limited means of production.

What ensued for Boutique Hub later was mayhem. They had to see which merchandise was still fit for selling, which merchandise needed restauration. And worse, with the Dollar climbing and climbing, a new selling pricing - which Cynthia explained very thoroughly on Instagram.

Then after a while, there was also a different set of merchandise. Do note that Boutique Hub. also houses an in-house brand such as Urban Sense but also has a long running collaboration with Kinamania. But for all the other suppliers a new deal had to be made - whereby mostly they would provide a specific yearly or seasonal collection exclusive for Boutique Hub. Rana Cheikha which had a hit with her booties still provided them for the shop, but other brands such as Emergency Room or Madame Céphanie. (again with a point!) had to provide specific items only. Cynthia at the time told me on a private chat, "it was strange, it was like telling people, come taste my wonderful burgers when before I was selling sushi!" - Cynthia currently curates special collections from 10 designers down from 40+.

But all this info is to get us to the Stand For Women which is collaborating with Dare Women (from France) and the result is to guide 5 Lebanese creatives (Joelle, Guilda, Sherine, Carolina and Cynthia). All five women have seen the tools of their livelihood destroyed on the August 4th explosion. And whereas they have rebuild or tried to find alternative means of remaining in the market (Cynthia herself has relocated the merchandise and the fittings to her own house) - all five are in dire need of serious business planning with an eye on international expansion. 

There is even a podcast "J'ose rebondir Liban" (I dare to Rebound Lebanon) where the women tell their stories and the effects the explosion had on literally, destroying their livelihoods prior to them "rebounding" out of their sheer will. All of this comes at a much needed time for the entrepreneurs in question. Actually, for the "entrepreuneuses".

In the female form. In plural.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

We no longer read, we react.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series Tanaklogia

We no longer read, we react.

I found that to be very true lately. Which is why I stopped writing comments on Instagram, something I actually enjoyed. Several times people reacted to my comments without fully understanding them, isolating them from the bigger picture of who I was, or what my blog always preached, simply for the pleasure of some self-righteous justification they feel they deserve.

Let me give this example. A certain person on Instagram contacts me privately, either with "Tarek?" or without even a message at all. Just a picture is attached. The idea would be to locate where that picture was taken. Several minutes later the answer would be "Bhamdoun, look at the photo of the elections candidate, his name is so and so, and he was a prominent politician in the area at the time", or "oh too easy, this is two streets away from AUB, the building is still there right now". Which is why I feel it is a pleasure to write public comments on his posts.

In one of my comments I used the word "nawar". A girl replied schooling me that they were an actual population of "roma" whose name was abstracted to mean certain kind of people. In return I thanked her and said that her using "roma" was incorrect as they are now rebaptized as "travellers" (for those who do not know "roma" is a newer name for gypsies). I thought the exchange ended there...

And then all hell broke lose. I had tens of people scolding me for being ignorant, racist, this, that, in the end I deleted my original comment because it was not worth it to be subjected to a trial by people completely ignorant of the facts.

Here's another story. Again, Instagram. Will not bore you with the details. But in a private exchange with someone I mentioned that Robespierre was himself a victim of the guillotine he so long operated and sent people to - as a way to tell them to tamper their enthusiasm about how they were labelling people online. Next thing I know they were tagging me and the Internal Security Forces in a public story that I was threatening them with "death". How this lead to that is still beyond me in terms of logic - if there ever was one.

But still, it was but one of the many examples of how people are taking up arms for - well, nothing. Just twisted imaginings projected onto other people. But these instinctive reactions people are having are truly perplexing. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it perfectly in her essay "It Is Obscene" (which I wholeheartedly invite you to read here): "People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself (...), while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’"

And complexity and nuance are really what are needed (see here), I read it somewhere online that if you say you like apples, does not mean you are "preaching" you hate mangoes. Chill people there is enough space and tastes for everyone to cohabitate on the internet. In a scientific book published in 1929 the author wrote (sadly did not keep the book) "peaches are the tastiest of all fruits". Can you imagine learning that as a student and realizing your prefer - heaven forbids - bananas? Thankfully, social media was not invented in 1929. Can you imagine what it would be for someone to "cancel" bananas?

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Khoury Home does Father's Day

 Ah so this flew a little under the radar. Khoury Home does Father's Day... A little bit pocking fun as said father(s) - they could be rock stars? (or rather rock star wannabees), or sport fanatics (hmmm 80s leotard-clad anyone?), or photographers (well, the wedding cake collapsed), or astronauts (OK, not all astronauts apparently have giant leap for mankind"... But the ad is quite lighthearted, funny in its own dismissive way. And truth be told, quite real as it can get (I mean seriously, we all make small jokes on fathers). Watch the full ad here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Should brands advertise in today's crisis-ridden Lebanon?

Portemilio ad from my collection

Sometime in the mid-aughts, a campaign in Lebanon (mostly Beirut) would only be visible if it had 600 billboards, otherwise it would be drowning in the sea of competitors. Today, you can literally pick around 5 billboards and you will be seen. This, to begin with, comes from the lack of ads (though the situation is very slightly improving - very very slightly), so suddenly, you are "seen". 

You know the old adage, that in times of crisis brands should advertise more. So that when the crisis ends their name would be top of mind for the consumer. In 1989 the father of a friend was working on a very upscale banquet area in a resort in Kaslik. Of course, everyone thought the owner of the resort was bananas. Why invest in such a luxurious thing when the war was raging? Fast forward to 1991 and the war ended, and guess where everyone who was anyone wanted to throw their wedding reception? 

But let us look at the equation from all angles. Take the case of Pepsi. One of Lebanon's most ubiquitous advertisers. Now that Coca-Cola left the Lebanese market (again), you can palpably feel the brand's advertising has decreased visibly (so much that it no longer advertises on the Guinness book trolley in Dbayeh opposite Spinney's which was usually its mainstay!). Now, the price of a 2,25 bottle of Pepsi has increased very very dramatically. And if our own house is an indicator, Pepsi which was in the 70s and 80s a drink more reserved to birthdays/celebrations or family lunches (here's an ad from the past to justify this positioning), has seen its consumption cut drastically. Now, do note, with no other alternatives, we still buy Pepsi (granted, diet Pepsi because am diabetic), but does Pepsi still need further ads and campaigns? Well, they did a slight one (the Chraba Redda thingy), but honestly, they were not really obliged to do it - they just did it because it allows people the flexibility to ask for it at shops. And because glass bottles became exorbitantly expensive (which was very well played from Jabaliyeh as they riffed on Pepsi!). 

Now, let us take the example of the HoReCa industry (hotels, restaurants and cafes). Have you tried eating out lately? Well, yesterday, a friend returned a favor I had given him in the past. But to be "correct" I invited him out for a dessert. The price was eye-wateringly expensive. And that was just dessert. Can you imagine what it would have been if that was a full-meal? Viewing the case, it is no wonder that such institutions are refraining from advertising. A certain hotel is to be honest, but it is doing so with the idea that if you rent a weekend you can get a night for free. And why would you want to rent a hotel if you are a Lebanese resident? Well, with travel restrictions and many people no longer being able to go to Turkey (why Turkey? I explained it here!) a hotel stay could make up for the "depaysement" that former middle-class could be yearning for.

However, this is an exception. The discrepancy between restaurant prices and the average Lebanese income has grown so high it is currently almost impossible for people to resume such a "lavish" spending. For a while things were going (and growing) digital, things have visibly cooled since the crisis deepened. 

Someone recently told me the story of how - four families agglomerated on a Sunday lunch of grilled meat, Arak and the proper accoutrements - and basically paid for it what amounted to what his father took as a retirement monthly salary from the army (though they did divvy the costs among the four families). Whereas the overall price was exorbitant, he spoke of the reunion with so much joy. Mind you he did add "honestly, there was almost nothing branded on the table save for the hummos which was from cans" - then he went crashing back to earth, "have you seen the prices of hummos cans lately?".

Perhaps one of the issues is that, if brands were to advertise in a time of crisis such as the case of Lebanon, the idea would be that the crisis has an end. Except that everyday is bringing its own problems further - which is making the end of the tunnel seem farther and farther. And honestly? If I were a brand today in Lebanon, to answer the question: Should I advertise?

My answer is a resounding "NO".

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

On style and the Lebanese financial crisis

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I previously spoke of the Lebanese leaning towards thrift, second-hand shopping, what it means to be middle class in Lebanon today, the dire straits of Lebanese shopping streets, and of how Beirut is dead and very slowly learning to pick itself up and question its new identity. But lately, I am thinking of an incident that happened circa 1993. When Lebanon was still reeling from its 80s financial crisis, and the Dollar was still newly pegged at 1500 (yes, we all know how that ended!). I was taking the bus on the way home from AUB, that big blue and white bus (which was not actually very compatible with the streets of Beirut). Usually the passengers knew each other by sight. But on that day there was an oddity.

A woman, already in here 60s, perfectly coiffed, wearing 70s oversized shades, with a white t-shirt adorned with a Courreges logo (and a stain underneath it), a maxi skirt, and some very well-worn sling backs. She sat there, perfectly still, a little haughty, with her slender very tall body (I do not assume she was a model in her days, such a profession would be beneath her socio-economic status), a little too uptight on her chair. Maybe she already was feeling that this was not her element, or that she had to adjust so that this would be (or become) her element. 

But the relevance of her attitude is very compatible with today's Lebanon. People struggling to wear, again and again, that H&M dress which they theoretically bought to wear once and were supposed to hand-down to some unfortunate cousin. Then understanding that today, it was them who became the unfortunate cousin in question. People realizing they can no longer go out for lunch on Sundays to restaurants when it was a given prior.

But people try to hang on to the past. To what was normal and what they were used to. Like that woman in the bus. In a telling example, Jane Birkin told Vogue in 2021 interview, that when she asked her mother what she took with her when her flat got bombed during the war (WWII): After a long thought, she said, “Schiaparelli Shocking pink perfume.” I said, “Ma! Didn’t you take food? Didn’t you take clothes?” And she said, “No. When you have nothing left, it’s the mirror that counts.”

And for the Lebanese, who have lost everything, what is left is their oversized shades, their Courreges t-shirts (with a stain), and "the mirror that counts". So I see them trying to wear their clothes as best as they can, the men in ill-fitting shirts, the women in the afore-mentioned H&M dresses, as they try to maintain mental images which the reality of their current economies no longer can sustain.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Los Desastres De La Guerra by Tarek Chemaly now out.

In 2017 I issued a full book after "Der Krieg" by Otto Dix, and this year on a total whim I did a new series based on "Los Desastres De La Guerra" after Francisco Goya. In both series, though in totally different styles, I tried to find overlap and cross-over with the Lebanese war, a war which seems to perpetuate itself and which keeps bursting periodically. Above are two samples of the series in question. The series has been compiled into a book which you can find on this link

As usual, my publications are online for you to enjoy for free. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

An old Lexus ad from my portfolio: Or how concepts come in a split of a second

The ad, I think unreleased, goes back to 2003 and was part of my portfolio when I worked at Drive (later Drive-Dentsu) in Saudi Arabia. If I am sharing it, that's because lately I have seen so many ads with no concept it is really a shame this is called "advertising" - especially when Lebanon still claims to be the creative hub of talents in the Middle East (though of course I am contesting that notion).

Let me tell you the story of how it came out: It was five minutes before client servicing went to see the client for the new Lexus SC launch campaign. The campaign we did was brilliant, well art directed, neat copy, the whole lot. Then, Philip, the excellent Filipino art director asked me "Tarek, how do you spell escape?" - and I said "e-s-c..." - insert light bulb on top of my head!

The ad was done in 3 minutes flat - the illustration, art direction, everything was finished and printed and handed to the client servicing right before they packed off to the meeting. 

See? A good ad can come out of nowhere. A great concept too. It does not need time, or extra money, or ooomph or what not. Which is why it is more the pity that today, silly ads are being "created" and "approved" and "run" when frankly they should not be seeing the time of day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Sohat awkwardly misquotes Nietzsche

Here's the original quote: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche

If ever there was an ominous philosophical warning, this would be it.

Sohat, our local mineral water brand, oddly thought that misquoting it actually makes it more palatable (not sure if this is a pun or not!). "When we stare into the colourful abyss, the colourful abyss stares back" - this reminds me of the iconic smile of Jack Nicholson in The Shining (deranged, demented, and you know he is out for the kill) - especially the "here's Johnny" scene, where it is still a "smile" but a threatening one to put it mildly. To be honest, it spooks me about who comes up, then who approves such things as they make me uncomfortable (especially that the quasi-totality of the masses have no clue this is a misquoted Nietzsche saying).

As I said, this could easily be one of the most disturbing moralistic quotes in the history of moral lessons (and trust me, I took the ethics course at university and I have seen some pretty spooky ones!). I am not sure diluting it with the word "colourful" makes it work.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Beirut is talking again - post financial crash and post explosion

Photo by Tarek Chemaly

Beirut is talking again. For a long time, the city was "mute". Believe it or not it happened before the explosion of August 4th. Something was odd, whatever Beirut was regurgitating was forumulatic things - through its walls and alleys and its whole sentiment and being. A long time ago (in 2008) and in an interview with a Swedish newspaper, I said "Beirut is like a snake, it needs to shed its skin periodically" - not caring who or what it hurts in the process.

Yes, Beirut is a treacherous entity. Schizophrenic, with different personalities cohabitating all at once, and as I said, all of them stopped talking at the same time. As if there was this whole new modus operandi being reworked, to sound cliché, a matrix being reloaded. But when I went to Beirut on Saturday for my first vaccine dose (yay!), I noticed something different about it - it was regaining life. Again, to be cliché once more, I am quoting Star Trek: "There's life Jim, but not as we know it".

When I say Beirut is regaining life, it is not the life "before". It is different than what was happening... before the financial crash and how it redefined socio-economic classes (see here) or the explosion which also targeted all strata of the society (see here). I know you might say I am just imagining this. Life is life after all. No, it is not. Not when the whole population went through the same trauma at the same time for the same reason, when already two prior generations (or more) had their war trauma undealt with.

Beirut (and Beirutis) is (are) still redefining itself (themselves) post-explosion and post-financial crash - and it is happening consciously or not. To quote that exceptional break up song by ABBA When All Is Said and Done, the city and its inhabitants are "slightly worn, dignified, and not too old for sex".

Nothing like a financial crisis, a pandemic, and an explosion to make a city reassess its identity. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Takis Fuego - just because it is there!

If I am mentioning this ad (Takis) it is because it is there - which is no mean feat these days in Lebanon. So here it is: "Do you dare?" apparently the sub name of the product "fuego" implies that it is hot. Creatively it is nothing new, but what drew my attention was the Arabic line "face hardship" - well, this is not something to be said to a Lebanese today that's for sure, because every day is an uphill struggle. But I think this is some pan-Arab campaign because the type of language used implies more "Arab countries" than Lebanese idioms. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Tola (re)enters the Lebanese market

So ads are creeping back to Beirut. Sure, not in the same frequency that was prior to October 2019 and the start of the "thawra" but there is a palpable improvement. Take Tola - the Nestle chocolate "produced in Lebanon" with the cute line "el 7elo byerkhaslak" (which means "we'd drop the price of what's sweet just for you" - a riff on a local expression). Now here's what's interesting, this is not the first time Tola enters the Lebanese market. At the time it was owned by Rowntree's before the whole company got bought by Nestle (including Kit Kat and Lion Bar - their star products). Don't believe me? How about this artistic treatment below of the original mid-80s ad?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Pepsi Max - the campaign that tries too hard

Brand rivalries - we miss those. But then again some try too hard. So Pepsi Max (France) is trying to put down Coca-Cola. "Choose the brand that you do not think about when they say cola", "a unique taste rather than an iconic bottle", "if you want your name on the bottle, use your pen", "we haven't invented Santa Claus, just a max of taste".

On paper they work, in real life they come from a position of uncertainty. Here's a small comparison with a Smirnoff ad from the 90s: "Vodka from the time the vodka mattered not the bottle". See the difference in tone? The Smirnoff is not apologetic, or riding from behind, it is going all aggressive and for a reason. Ok now the mistake of the campaign was that the tone was a bit off, though on the whole one can understand why they chose it. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The line that lets Amstel saves itself in this Pride Month ad.

So it is pride month. No, not in Lebanon, but it is pride month - cue all brands trying to get on the bandwagon. Which brings us to Amstel. Amstel Brasil to be specific. Actually, you ought to watch the ad here. I admit, it is cliche and rather lackluster (full of the excpected drag queens and non-conformist individuals - which I am have no problem with, but one could spot that from a mile), the ideas have been done prior - "I am what I am" is the concept. Hence I am /a creator/arte/a star/Intense.... But the real saving grace? I am/stel. Honest, you needed to wait for the end for it to appear. But appear it did. And it saved the ad from its own ho-hum. And well, it was worth the wait! (Small hint since Amstel comes from Holland, could the line be influenced by the famous I Amsterdam line used to sell the city to visitors?)

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Bayan Dahdah x and some meaningful watermelons

"In 1967, it became a crime to raise a Palestinian flag in occupied Palestine. In a gesture of protest, Palestinians would carry a slice of watermelon as it contained the same national colours. Today, in light of recent events and censorships, the watermelon has resurfaced." So this is how designer Bayan Dahdah describes her collaboration with for her watermelon embroidered items (which you can shop there on this link) - you can also go to Bayan's instagram for some powerful narratives (here).

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Glenbey, an ad which lacks a backbone

Glenbey - from the Glens of Scotland to the shores of of Lebanon. Here's the idea of the ad: A man takes his dog for a walk in the highlands of Scotland, arrives to a wooden hut, asks for a glass of whisky and the barmaid tells him it is "raised in Lebanon" when he wonders if it is "Scottish". 

Look, I can sympathize with the people who did the ad, in a country where everything is on a shoestring budget, the ad is actually well-done. Though truth be told, there's no fooling anyone about Scotland by way of Lebanese mountains. The worst bit is the lack of concept. Which I find puzzling from the same agency which gave us the KSARA Army Day classic ad. But I digress, the schizophrenia starts elsewhere - a "Scottish" whisky with a Phoenician boat as a logo. Still, there could have been a million other ways to sell this more intelligently. Hint: How about an ad that would go "all the taste, none of the kilt" - with a woman wearing the checkered skirt instead of the usual man wearing the kilt (you're welcome).

I know it seems odd to shoot down one of the rare ads actually produced in Lebanon as of late, especially when I tend to like the output of the said agency, but there's an element in the ad that lacks a backbone and that truly bothers me. Well, I raise my glass to the next one!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Burger King Belgium and that smart McDonald's dig

So Burger King Belgium is reopening its stores. Good for them after jumping, like the rest of us, from one lockdown to another and from one difficult situation to another. So they're launching this cute campaign where they show forgotten things in their locales and invite people to get them back (a cell phone, a birthday balloon, a backpack).... thrown in the melee is a McDonald's employee cap. Had the McDonald's cap been a stand alone, it would have been too "badly seen" but being part of a bigger campaign not only reinforces its wit and charm but also dilutes the acrimony. To be honest though, very well played from Burger King.
All this reminds us of the uber funny The Onion which published (back in 1997!) a satirical article about how Cola industry veterans are getting their own memorial following the lovely Coca-Cola/Pepsi war.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Claim your narrative, I claimed mine.

Recently, I saw the poster of an exhibition which dates back to 2015 which was hosted by a certain institution. The concept of the exhibition, the scenography, the artworks, the elements on the poster the whole she bang was mine. On the said poster, my name was nowhere to be found. Nowhere. 
Interestingly, I was thankfully in charge of the communication as I always am in my exhibitions. So the press material and the elements that were distributed digitally all had my name on them. 
This is but one detail of the many things that happened where my name as - intentionally or not - omitted. Still, I claim these events as ethically mine. Actually, a few years back I went into a "digital regrouping mode". There were too many sub-brands to my name, even the name of my previous blog was something that did not mention me (Beirut/NTSC). My publishing arm arm was called 7UPstrairs though it was a one-man-army. My writings were generously offered to other publications which, again, did not give me credit several times - or worse, hired me only to give me a salary reduction one week later (guess, who slammed the door behind him?). Actually even my LinkedIn profile was slightly altered so that it would not be telling the whole truth, without telling a lie. As a matter of fact, even was a masking tape for another sub-brand which did not take off.
Long story short, the digital regrouping worked, even if it meant sacrificing brands, side-projects and withholding my name from several other publications (these days, very rarely do I accept my work to be published elsewhere but here). I understand that for many - my name is fragmented: people who follow the blog might not be aware of my art, or my research, or know that I taught at master's level for fifteen years, or the other hats I wear. But that was a deliberate strategy on my part, and I wanted it to survive the afore-mentioned "digital regrouping".
Still, the exercise was worth it. I tightened the screws of the name, the "Tarek Chemaly" brand, controlled the ramifications of the projection to any of the works that has my name stamped on it. And despite setbacks because I am in Lebanon, which the quasi-totality of the Lebanese have suffered, my price list remained unchanged. I know that others are trying to adapt to the post-crash market and totally understand them, but to me - my clients which are stationed abroad were offered the same pricing as before the crisis started in Lebanon which brought the desperate need for "fresh money".
Lately, I was talking to someone and I told him I left my teaching position because it made more financial sense to remain at home, and his reply was "you can afford it". Well, here's the deal - if I can afford it or not, including my financial machinations are all part of a image am projecting to people. What happens behind the facade is purely mine, because the narrative I claimed does not include this part. 
Claiming your narrative allows you to control how you are seen. And to quote rapper Saweetie: "However, if you don't have a voice and if you don't speak up and create your own narrative, someone else will".

Monday, May 24, 2021

Johnnie Walker: Platitudes galore

Where does on begin? Johnnie Walker just unleashed a prepackaged, lowest common denominator, cliche filled ad - oh and the whole ad has one (ONE!) person wearing a mask! Everyone else is without it. Before I go on, perhaps you should see the ad here! Apparently, we have "resilience" and that people "deserve the best" and that "from rock bottom we have risen up" and "the city breathes again". If anyone is willing to mistake Beirut - the damaged, the shuttered, the pseudo-empty, the shell of its former self - with Lalaland, Johnnie Walker would be it. Many many brands have ridden the motivational wave, but at least there was "some" logic in it, but going back to Johnnie Walker, all I can do is quote The Eagles' "Hotel California" with "some dance to remember/some dance to forget" - and this applies to drinking in a city that is currently under the weight of a "perfect storm" where all elements are feeding on one another. And please spare me the "keep walking" because at this stage we are a populace that is "walking wounded".

Pizza Hut and a worthy farewell to the Lebanese market


And now it is the turn of Pizza Hut to leave the Lebanese market. At least they left with a bang and with a lot of panache. In an empty pizza box (and one which is soiled with oil coming from a Pizza) a message reads: Until we make more memories.
Then the image continues: 
"In this place there are many memories, we had a lot of good days and many generations would gather here, from the family Sunday lunch of a pizza for the kids after school, to the gathering of friends fighting over the cheese-stuffed crust, to the "hello 1212?", and many many more.
You are used to us procuring the best service and the finest experience, and so in order not to let you down we decided to flip a wonderful page and say goodbye.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the love you have shown us for years, and the unforgettable moments.
Keep those lovely memories in mind.
One day we will  make even more lovelier ones".
Well, if anyone  needs to leave the Lebanese market (hello H&M & co) this is how to be done.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Joe Andoun and a Kafaesque call for justice

And there are those who still believe justice will be done. Which in Lebanon is like waiting for Godot, or to quote late singer Leonard Cohen "the Maestro says it's Mozart/But it sounds like bubble gum/When you're waiting/For the miracle, for the miracle to come". I wrote about how I almost lost my life, not once, but twice, on the day of the mega August 4 explosion in Beirut - but there are those did lose their lives. And their families and loved ones are still in flux with no closure. Which brings us to the ad plastered on a billboard on Dora about Joe Andoun, one of the victims of that blast.
"9 months since the death of my brother, and the father and the son, Joe Andoun" and on the other side "more than 200 victims at the Beirut port explosion, we shall not remain silent on keeping the murderers free, we invite the legal system to punish the murderers" - a small research would lead you to conclude that the person who placed this is none other than Elie, late Joe's brother. Truly, one can only sympathize with these families who out of nowhere and in split of a second saw their world turn upside down, those who lost dear ones, or their properties - as I said prior, the explosion was the great social equalizer. All socio-economic classes were hit - whether we want to admit or not.
Again, that ad above, wishing for a swift justice, seems both - too sincere and too Kafkaesque, in a country where everything gets swept under the carpet. But to quote that witty Swedish doctor who said to me "at least you have nice carpets there!".

Monday, May 17, 2021

The strange double life of the Barilla jingle in Lebanese pop culture

Credit: Lebanon Dikkene

That Barilla jingle! The one drilled into the collective memory of the Lebanese population. Yes, that one! One of the many many achievements of multi-hyphenate creative Elias Rahbani who left us at the beginning of this year. But you know how it happens, a musician produces a hit song, the song gets used in an ad - it happened gazillions of times.

But what if I told you the reverse happened in this instance. Case in point? Our legendary diva Sabah and her own hit single "wa3douni w nattarouni" - you will realize that it is the exact same beat as Barilla.

Usually this means that the hit was produced (by Elias Rahbani) and he was commissioned by Barilla to put new lyrics to it (side note - Rahbani who composed "Tafta hindi" for Raja Badr did exactly that for Niers luncheon meat in an ad starring Dalida Baroud when she was still at LBC in the 80s). Actually, in the case of Barilla, Sabah who had an ear for potential hits and a great sense of hype, heard the Barilla jingle and asked Rahbani to pen a song on the same music. Naturally, a mega hit was born. But as I said, it was born "the other way around" - with the advertising coming first.