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This report is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Letter from Beirut Norbert Hirschhorn
IN THE FRONT GARDEN of the beautiful Sursock mansion, now housing an elegant Beirut art museum, stands a sandstone sculpture of two women: one veiled, one unveiled – Muslim and Christian. Mothers, perhaps widows, they are seated, arms extended but not touching, meeting over the space meant to represent an urn for human ashes. The work is by Lebanese artist Youssef el Howayek (1883–1962), who had been commissioned to create a monument commemorating the 1916 hanging of nearly three dozen Arabs, Muslim and Christian alike – intellectuals, journalists, and poets – seeking to be free of their ruthless Ottoman Turkish overlords.

The monument, unveiled in 1930, stood facing the sea in front of Beirut’s mercantile and government districts, an area still known as ‘Martyrs’ Square’. Howayek meant as well to honour the unity of two Arab religions bonded in mutual grief. From the beginning, however, strident Lebanese nationalists called for its removal, describing the work as a ‘servile and weeping monument’. And so in 1951 it was hidden away in the Sursock mansion, to be replaced by a newer work that ‘neither weeps nor bows’. In 1960, the replacement in bronze was unveiled, sculpted by the Italian Marino Mazzacurati (1907–1969). It could stand in any country: a heroic ensemble of two wounded men looking up at a triumphant female figure carrying a torch, and guiding another male figure. Ironically, during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the statue was badly shot up and the standing man ‘lost’ his left arm. The fragments of the statue were uncovered ...

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