The Yellow House, Beirut. 1924 – 2010
The yellow house has seen Beirut through her grandest and bloodiest turns. Commissioned in 1924 by the Barakat family, the building designed by Youssef Aftimos, in the picturesque French Mandate style is a work of genius, affording a view onto the street from every room in the building with views through windows, verandahs, doorways into windows beyond and onto the city. At the time of its construction, the building was situated in the outskirts of Beirut, with urban planning the city soon built up and by the time the war started in 1982, the yellow house found itself positioned exactly on the demarkation line which divided East and West. Due to its strategic positioning, facing their enemy to the West, the Christian militia reappropriated the interior spaces and views through to build bunkers and snipers nests.
Representing a valuable step in Beirut’s architectural heritage, this building took on a very different value during the war. The worlds of the architect and sniper were intertwined, the latter taking the building’s exceptional layered vistas as a source for voyeurism, protection and mass murder. The gunmen could nest in the bunker’s dark recesses while commanding the street corner from virtual obscurity. The remaining scars of war left by the billions of bullet marks on the walls are a chilling reminder of the terror of conflict.
Using one of the outside bullet holes which have pierced through the stone walls, I converted one of the rooms of The Yellow House into a camera obscura installation bringing the projections of the front line back into the heart of the sniper’s nest. The same aperture which was caused as a result of war now turning back on itself. People walk across the mass bullet ridden walls, clouds move silently over the rubble and devastation left by war, images are turned back onto themselves, the outside now looking in.
Nilu January 20th, 2010