An Installation of Letters from Beirut

T Sakhi, a Beirut-based design studio creates a public interactive installation during the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, in partnership with Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. The project wants to continue the dialogue on Beirut’s reconstruction through the power of words, and letters, stored in handcrafted pouches, written by 4,000 Lebanese citizens.

The installation is the creative brains of Tessa and Tara Sakhi, sisters and cofounders of T SAKHI, a hybrid architecture and design studio, merging multiple disciplines to provoke curiosity and stimulate interaction. In their latest installation “Letters from Beirut”, the studio collaborates with Sharjah-based Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, a platform ensuring the preservation of indigenous craft heritage by engaging women artisans across the UAE, Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Central Asia and South East Asia regions to empower them economically and socially through vocational training and upskilling programmes.

The new interactive installation is a handcrafted poetic project in honour of the Lebanese community that highlights the importance of immortalising the thoughts of Lebanese citizens during these tough and constructive times and underlines the power of words through letter writing. The project is dedicated to restoring genuine dialogue, deep connections and unexpected, multisensory experience with strangers, explain the designers.

The installation consists of a 6-meter linear wall that acts as a surface for contact and exchange and utilises the senses to engage pedestrians who are encouraged to select one of the 4,000 handcrafted scented pouches to take home. Inside the pouch, they discover both, a personal message from a Beirut survivor to which they are encouraged to answer back to, as well as a seed—a universal symbol of rebirth—to plant and grow. The wall starts to disintegrate as more pouches are pulled out and it finally disappears, a metaphor to allude that through communication and exchange, humanity can overcome obstacles.

The first edition of the installation is taking place in Giardini della Marinaressa in Venice during the 5th edition of The European Cultural, which opened in parallel with the Venice Architecture Biennale on May 22, 2021, and will run until November 21, 2021.

“The installation aims to transgress space and time through the lives of other people and provokes a sensorial and evocative experience. Even more importantly, it plants a seed for healing and heartfelt connections—connections among people, as well as between people and nature—at a time when the Lebanese people, and the world at large, so desperately need it, leaving a message of growth and hope. The letters continue a life of their own in the homes of these strangers,” says Tessa and Tara.

Designed both to inspire and raise charitable funds to support various sectors focusing on healthcare, infrastructure, education, and livelihoods post the 4th of August blast in Beirut, the installation will further allow visitors to donate to the NGOs through a QR code, the names of which are noted below.

Irthi Contemporary Craft Council donated 4,000 pouches handcrafted by 37 Emirati craftswomen, from the Bidwa Social Development Programme in Sharjah. The pouches are made from recycled and sustainable felt stitched in silver Zari thread and lined in linen. The process incorporates a weaving technique inspired by one of the traditional hand-weaving patterns used in ‘Safeefah’, a traditional Emirati palm frond weaving craft, that uses techniques similar to basket-making.

In this project, the artisans created a contemporary pattern for the felt pouches, inspired by the ‘Sayr Yaay’ technique, replacing palm fronds with recycled felt. The Bidwa Programme is designed to train and professionally develop Emirati women who practice indigenous crafts, so they are able to generate a sustainable income and achieve socio-economic empowerment, founded in 2016 by Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council.

The papers used in the project are handmade papers by University students (Mariam Abdulkarim, Amal Al Hammadi, and Zainab Adel) as their graduation project. The materials used were recycled papers, water, acrylic colours, a blender and wooden moulds.

The seeds to plant are coriander, zucchini, and green beans, all edible plants used in Lebanese cuisine. Each pouch is scented with a stimulating natural fragrance evocative of Lebanon’s flora; cedar, pine, gennet, thyme, or jasmine.

“The mission of the project is to encourage and preserve cultural and craft heritage, support artisans and sustainable design process in the Arab region, as well as instil hope in a nation sinking in an economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis,” says the designers.

A project that carries messages, emotions, smells and memories across continents as it bridges seas and land to deliver the message of humanity and connectivity, even as it celebrated its own individuality through the indigenous crafted pouches, is indeed a powerful message at times when some parts of the world ignore the suffering of the other half of the continent.

They emphasise that the project came to life due to the support of the Patrons: H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qassimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and H.H. Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah.

The NGOs that are connected to the installations are:

All Images Courtesy: T SAKHI