To fight the sense of dread that has gripped residents of a Shiite-majority Beirut suburb since it was hit by two suicide bombings in January, artists have gone on a mission to paint the neighbourhood in bright, hopeful colours.
The “Bridge of Colours” festival, which took place Sunday, was just the latest initiative by artists in the suburb of Haret Hreik to lift the spirits of their neighbours. Dozens of artists, musicians and poets from all over the country joined them under a highway overpass for a day of art-making. The festival took place just a few hundred metres from two blast sites, where road barriers set up following these tragic events are gradually being painted in bright colours by local artists.
A car bomb exploded in a busy street of Haret Hreik on January 2, killing two people. On January 21, another car bomb went off less than 100 metres away, killing six. Dozens of people were injured in both blasts. Haret Hreik, like much of Beirut’s southern suburbs, is a largely Shiite area, known for being supportive of Hezbollah.
Cement blocks painted by Ali Bahssoun and his friends.

“When people see the cement road blocks, they see fear. We’re colouring them so that people can see beauty instead”

Ali Bahssoun is a graffiti artist who lives in Haret Hreik.
I live near the site of the explosions. Afterwards, my neighbours were terrified that the suicide attacks would keep happening. Shopkeepers would stand in the street and scrutinize passing cars, saying, ‘Do you think that one’s going to explode? No, it’s leaving’, etc. Quickly, sandbags and cement blocks were set up in the streets to keep outsiders from parking their cars here. When I saw these sad, gray blocks, I decided that they could use some sprucing up. I gathered some of my friends, and we went to a paint shop that had been damaged in one of the blasts. The owners agreed to give us paint for free.
When people here see the blocks, they see fear. So we have started colouring them so that people can see beauty instead, and forget the terrorist attacks for a bit. Of course, I’m realistic. I know that paintings don’t prevent explosions, but I do think that art can send a message to terrorists: We will not be ruled by fear. This inspired the Bridge of Colours festival on Sunday, which I also took part in.
On the right, cement blocks before being painted; on the left, after being painted.

“We painted a car that was wrecked in the latest attack”

Mohammad Allouche is part of the local artists’ group Montada Alwan (“The Forum of Colours”), which organised Sunday’s festival.
We invited local artists, as well as artists from around the country and even from Iraq and Syria, of all faiths – Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Christians, Druzes…There were 45 artists in all, who painted, made music, and read poems all day.
One of the highlights of the festival was painting the wreck of a car that had been damaged in the latest attack [Editor’s Note: This was not a car used by the suicide attackers; it was a car parked near the blast site]. The city has gathered all the car wrecks in a lot not far away, from which a group of us pushed the car to the bridge. At the end of the day, once artists and locals had painted it, it was no longer a scary object, but a beautiful one.
The car before its makeover.
A child helps paint the car.
The finished car, surrounded by works of art made during the festival.
Artists painted the bridge walls during the festival.
Artists painting on the bridge. 
A symbol of hope.