A group of Lebanese artists, named Dihzahyners, are changing the urban scenery of Beirut by painting stairways with eye-catching colours. By way of an ongoing project named Paint Up the team meet regularly to visit and decorate many stairways throughout the city. Many vibrant colours and geometric patterns are being used to in some way soften the hearts and ease the minds of everybody in and around the city. Lebanon still has a lot of political and economic issues that continue to make the situation in the country critical. This is their way to change it. I had the opportunity to ask Lana Chukri (co-founder) a few questions about what they are all about.
Can you tell us something about the origins of DIHZAYNERS and how it came about?
Paint Up! is the brainchild of co-founders Lana Chukri and Jubran Elias. In 2012, they brought together a team of talented and bright designers they graduated with, which they called “Dihzahyners”, to recreate and rejuvenate broken and gloomy spaces in Beirut through a series of urban and street art initiatives that later became known as Paint Up! In due course, their social enterprise and non-profit organization was born and went on to evolve into a living, breathing entity that resonated with artists, enterprises, and people worldwide.
The name ‘Dihzahyners’ comes from the phonetic dictionary rendering of the word designers. It is the name of the team, while ‘Paint Up’ is the non-profit organization and series of projects that were created by the team. We always like to introduce ourselves as ‘Dihzahyners’, even in media and social coverage, as one of our main ideals is that nothing can be built and sustained without a team, as a whole.
How do people respond to the projects that you guys do?
People’s reactions to our projects have always been positive; they’ve come out of their houses, asked us what we were doing, suggested designs and colours of their own, told us how much they appreciate what we’re doing, how no one has done something like this for their community before and now they wake up looking at the stairs and feel refreshed. They bring us water and juice at times, and one woman even came out and started giving us blessings with smoke and bakhour around our heads and thanking us. Other kids teach themselves and recite the colours they spot in the stairs and take part as well.
The reactions are beautiful and this is exactly what we do this for; to make them feel good about where they live and make them feel that we care and are active and present in the community.
What do you try to achieve with DIHZAHYNERS, what is your goal?
Dihzahyners is a team of inspired, driven & passionate artists/designers, aimed at creating initiatives to make Beirut brighter & more beautiful through colour. There are many aspects about Beirut that we know we have very little control over – so despite the politics, the economic crises, our goal is to create an outlet and platform for people to beautify the one thing they can control: their public spaces. By doing so, we could at least ensure that we never left a gloomy, concrete corner of Beirut the same way we found it – and we could find some common ground and vision that we could all be a part of as a community, together. During our projects, when everyone is painting, we don’t care about one another’s religious and political views. We don’t care whose family, or what background they are from. We only care about our city, our streets, our smiles, and the stories we share in those spaces. For just that moment, we are all people; creating something beautiful together.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
The inspiration originally came after Chukri & Elias had been researching ways to help and connect with their country, through urban design, and intervening in the public spaces / locations in Beirut for a while, and found that painting particular places that needed some uplifting would be an ideal medium to do so. Because they were always keen on being inspired through researching visuals from around the world of street art, graffiti, outdoor and urban design, they felt as designers that they could contribute to this powerful use of communication and expression. As a team, our inspiration comes from everywhere. Beirut is filled with inspiration in every street, every corner, every staircase and alleyway; every house that throughout the years has transformed into a home. There are rusty doors, wooden shutters in chipped paint. An old lady’s rosy cheeks, the redness in a child’s warm face, flowers in spring, bubbly conversations while standing in the streets of Mar Mikhael. Colour is everywhere in Beirut – we simply want to enhance it.
What was your proudest achievement so far?
Our proudest achievement would have to be the way we have brought people together – out of their homes, of all ages, of all backgrounds – and how we have been able to take what we do and be inspiring on an even more global level, putting Beirut on the map internationally for something positive, as opposed to the usual negative media coverage we experience on a daily basis.
Seeing our work in Beirut being featured in internationally acclaimed news platforms as some of the top street art in the world in Vogue, CNN, Reuters, VICE News – it’s an accomplishment we could only ever have dreamed of.
Tell me something about your upcoming project?
Paint Up! | The Rejuvenation is about resurrecting an iconic gem that has experienced many transformations since the early 20th century. In 2012, the stairs took on another transformation when we brought the public together to paint the steps in a vibrancy of colours; a testament to the liveliness of Beirut, despite its broken buildings and conflict. In the three years that followed, the Massaad Stairs evolved from being a Lebanese landmark, to a global one, Bringing to the streets of Beirut the sense of pride and artistic belonging it deserved; and establishing Massaad Stairs as a registered national treasure, restricting anyone from having the authority to destroy it. Now, 3 years later, we intend to uplift it yet again, to give the life back to the faded colours, and refuel this landmark that has touched so many people in Beirut and around the world.
Is it possible that in future, you will expand your activities outside of Beirut?
We definitely dream of expanding, to other areas in Lebanon first and then beyond our borders to other Middle Eastern countries. This will be years in the making, but eventually it is something we are constantly working towards. What we are so proud and happy about, however, is how many artists in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey became inspired by what we did and took the initiative to do the same in their communities. For us, that is in its own way inspiring an expansion on an even more profound level. To do something is one thing, but to teach, to inspire, to move others to do the same, is a so much more gratifying thing to see happen.
Who is financing your projects?
All our projects are financed and sponsored by COLORTEK, a subsidiary of Kassaa Group. They’re wonderful and so supportive of our creative vision for Beirut.
Are there any struggles you are facing with the project? And does it affect your work in some way?
The biggest struggle we face as artists is making street and urban art a recognized, legitimate form of artistic expression in our country. With those struggles come those who do not take us seriously, and therefore don’t always respect the time and effort that goes into what we do – for them, what we do can be viewed as fun, reckless forms of vandalism. Without warning or reason, we have had news of demolitions and sabotages of some of the projects we have done, the Massaad Stairs being one of them, and also at a time the Municipality of Beirut announced they were going to remove all the graffiti and street art in Beirut, before retracting their decision after much debate and discussion with news portals, including Zaven. Even though we have come a long way and have revolutionized street art in Beirut a lot over the last few years, we are only still scratching the surface and we know there is still a long way to go, and a few more challenges that we are more than ready to overcome.
Who are your favourite artists and why?
In terms of global artists, we would have to say Boa Mistura, a group of graffiti and street artists based in Madrid, Spain who carry out large scale community paint installations with vibrant themes and colours. Another artist we love isSpanish street artist Ruben Sanchez or ‘Zoonchez’ who is now based in Dubai, and creates astounding paint murals across the globe on broken spaces that need rejuvenating. As for a local artist, our main inspiration would Yazan Halwani, who is not only an incredible artist and conceptualizer with his calligraphic Arab portraits, but is also a great person and friend.
Do you have a last message to the world?
Beirut is living proof that chaos breeds creativity. Create moments and find solutions that make you feel alive, and that bring your community to life somehow. Those moments give people the courage to believe that this city they may have lost faith in still has so much love to give them. It inspires something profound in every individual, every mother and child, to believe, even if just for a few minutes, in a future for themselves here. And that is, essentially, how we heal.