Two ravaged neighbourhoods stand next to each other in Tripoli, Lebanon. They are in conflict with each other.
Up close, one can see the bullet holes in the buildings, the ruins of mortar fires, photographs of people killed in violence, and the scars of battle.
Yet, from space, the buildings send out a message of peace in bold, pistachio-green. “Salam”, the Arabic word for “peace”, is spelt out by art on their roofs, collectively.
That was the intention of identical twin brothers, Mohamed and Omar Kabbani, who started the street art scene in Lebanon in 2001 through Ashekman. “We’re painting the word ‘Salam’ across 85 building rooftops over 1.3 kilometres...to convey that people here are peaceful,” Omar told AFP. “And Lebanon in general, we want peace.”
The 34-year-old twins initiated “Operation Salam” three years ago, researching – and, inevitably, rejecting – multiple locations before they finally settled on the infamous Syria Street that separates two conflicted neighbourhoods, Bab Al Tebanneh and Jabal Mohsen. The two neighbourhoods have fought several armed clashes in recent years, owing to their respective Sunni-majority and Alawite-majority status, and yet people from both sides came together to help with the project.
“All of the workers live here in the neighbourhood, they lived the conflict, some of them got shot,” said Omar. “Two years ago, they were hiding from bullets...now they’re painting their rooftops proudly.”
The brothers used paint that seals the rooftops against rain and reflects ultra-violet rays to keep the homes below cool, so as to provide some benefits to the residents. They admitted to AFP that they hold no delusions about the kind of effect their artwork will have – they realise it does little to help the fighting or the poverty in the area.