Lebanon is best known for its seemingly intractable political problems — not least, a civil war that began in the 1970s, an Israeli invasion and occupation in the 1980s, a Syrian occupation throughout the 1990s, and another Israeli bombing campaign a few years ago — but seen from the vantage point of Cairo, where Sean lived in the late-1990s, Beirut represented something else: a city of possibility, where the usual rules and prohibitions of the region don’t apply.  It is also the city where his mother had gone to boarding school and the place from her childhood of which she had her fondest memories, so in 2009 Sean brought her back to Lebanon for her first visit in fifty years.  What they found was a Beirut that was less like Mogadishu than like Malibu on the Mediterranean, with organic markets and sidewalk espresso bars and a wild, unrestrained building boom of new luxury condos.  But for Sean, who had written about contemporary art in Cairo (see here), it was Beirut’s art scene that was of most interest, including world-class institutions like the new Beirut Art Center and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, as well as a vibrant street art culture that reflects the fact that in a region of dictatorships Lebanon is practically ungoverned and, consequently, both perpetually endangered and exceptionally dynamic.

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