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Beirut 1991 – 2003 | Gabriele Basilico revisited

December 28, 2009

In 1991 Basilico was one of the six photographers of “the Beirut photographic Mission”, with Depardon, Elkoury, Burri, Koudelka and Frank. The purpose was to record visual traces of the city centre after the end of the war.

Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon with a population of over 2.1 million as of 2007. In 1975 the Lebanese Civil War broke out throughout the country. During most of the war, Beirut was divided between a largely Muslim west part and the Christian east. The downtown area, previously the home of much of the city’s commercial and cultural activities, became a no man’s land. Many inhabitants fled to other countries. Thousands of others were killed throughout the war, but in particular during the 1982 Israeli invasion, during which must of west Beirut was under siege by Israeli troops.

Since the end of the war in 1990, the people of Lebanon have been rebuilding Beirut, and the images before the reconstruction are the main focus of the photographic work done by Basilico in between 1991 and 2003.


This collective project was financed by the Hariri Foundation and a book was published with the title “Beyrouth centre-ville” ( Editions du Cyprès,1992).

Basilico’s unpublished photographs are worth not only as historical documents, with his well-known talent, but more deeply for what they reveal beyond appearances. As a matter of fact, after fifteen years of civil war, Beirut, destroyed and still mined, is beginning to get out of this nightmare. Its ravaged historical heart is trying to beat again. While death marks can be seen everywhere, life has not yet found its birthplace.

We can read at Crown Gallery report: “Between the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one, between the ruins of the past and the preparation of the future, what is left is but nothingness, emptiness, absence, silence. Basilico, with much humbleness, catches what is suspending between disappearance and appearance, between death and resurrection, and invites us to watch the miracle of the eternal return to life.

“This is a city which, despite everything, has not lost its identity ; here is the “hard core”, a contrasting model that should not be forgotten and, if you ask me, one we should start out from again.” – Gabriele Basilico

We wanted to revisit the work of Basilico at Beirut, because he was comissioned to make a report of the war years… but in the year 2006, it has started another war again: the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Even if after that, the city had somewhat regained its status as a tourist, cultural, and intellectual center in the Middle East, as well as a center for commerce, fashion, and media, the reconstruction of downtown will change the views presented at these images, we think is necessary not to forget them, to try to avoid to make the same mistakes in the future.

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