“The explosion broke my heart. I was just devastated. I was traumatized, but to be honest, we’re all traumatized in Lebanon,” the 33-year-old Nazer told CNN.
Like many residents, she tried to clear up rubble and restore the city to its former glory. It was then that she had the idea to use some of what she had found to create a statue that could inspire her people to unite and rebuild.
“When I feel like this, I’m just trying to help and through art to fix and heal. In that way, I accept reality and try to rebuild my people,” she said.
For weeks, Nazer walked the streets of Beirut collecting twisted metal, broken glass and people’s discarded objects to use in sculpture.
“I traveled to people’s homes after they were destroyed by the blast and told them, ‘I just want you to give me everything I can lock in to make you part of my sculpture'”, said Nazer.
“I was shocked. People gave me such precious things – things from their childhood, their grandparents who died in the civil war, things they wanted to save for their children. So many emotions went into this thing.”
When Nazer finally had enough items, she put them together – a woman who hoisted the flag of Lebanon, her hair and dress flowing in the wind. The sculpture, which has no name yet, even shows a damaged clock that got stuck at 6:08 a.m., the moment of the explosion.
For Nazer, the process was cathartic. But it was not the first time that she created a work of art inspired by Lebanon’s social and political problems.
Before the explosion, when the country lapsed into months of protests against the country’s ruling elite, Nazer quit her job in communications to create art in hopes of stimulating change.
“I suddenly felt the need to paint,” said Nazer. “It was a need I couldn’t stop. I had to quit my job because I felt like I just couldn’t make the change I want to see in the world without focusing on my art.”
Her work includes other found object sculptures as well as graffiti and paintings on canvas.
In 2019 she created a sculpture called “The Phoenix”, made from tents that were broken by counter-protesters during the country’s political upheaval. The work shows the mythological bird that rises from the ashes. She also created a huge heart out of stones and tear gas canisters left over from riots.Nazer, who posts her projects on Instagram, said most of her work had been destroyed by authorities who disapprove of criticism of the government.
She fears that the same fate will meet her latest work, the sculpted woman.
“After an explosion, you can dismantle houses and buildings, but what you cannot bring back are memories. And throughout Lebanon’s history, our government is removing anything that reminds us of what was done to us,” said Nazer.
“That’s what makes this project so special. It fights. We raise our voices through art. We tell our own stories.”