Visual Storytelling: An Interview with the Curator of ‘Lebanon – In a State of Unrest’

We recently had the privilege of interviewing Stephanie de la Barra, a remarkable individual whose passion project, “Lebanon – In a State of Unrest,” is making a profound impact. Together with her transnational team from Austria, Lebanon and Syria, she conducted a human rights exhibition on the current state of Lebanon. The title itself encapsulates a dual perspective, skillfully addressing both the instability within the state as the governing body and the state of turmoil within the nation. The project’s inaugural exhibition, was held in June in Vienna, setting the stage for what promises to be a transformative journey.

Although this exhibition is a joint effort, the idea initially resulted from Stephanie’s impulse. Her journey into human rights advocacy began during her time as a student of the Global Campus of Human Rights in Venice (EMA), where she deepened her understanding of global issues. Her commitment to seeking a broader perspective beyond Europe led her to an exchange semester with ARMA, the Arab master’s Programme in Democracy and Human Rights. An experience that took her to Beirut, Lebanon, where she immersed in the complex dynamics of the region.

It was there that Stephanie found herself flooded with questions and assumptions about Lebanon by those back home, revealing a profound lack of awareness about the region. This experience ignited a series of questions and contemplations within Stephanie herself. She felt compelled to share the rich tapestry of Lebanon’s story. Something that demanded in-depth research and exploration. Together with like-minded people from Lebanon and Syria they formed not only a transnational, but also a multiprofessional team, including a fotographer, an anthropologist, an conceptual artist, a translator and a graphic designer.

This sparked the concept of an exhibition—a platform that could offer an expansive canvas for knowledge to intersect and for their stories to be told authentically. In collaboration with her dedicated team, they embarked on the mission of capturing and presenting these diverse and multifaceted stories to facilitate an informed discourse about the region – for insiders and outsiders.

In their effort to explore the diverse range of human stories in Lebanon, the team began an extraordinary journey, conducting extensive interviews, and capturing compelling images that showcased a vibrant spectrum of ethnicities and backgrounds. Their interviewees came from diverse origins, including Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian backgrounds, each adding a unique and invaluable perspective to the narrative.

Among the captivating narratives that emerged from this venture were the heartfelt accounts of an Egyptian fisherman, a dedicated Shia teacher, a belly dancer fighting traditional gender norms, the wisdom of a 95-year-old lady and tales from the tumultuous civil war, in Beirut. These stories, woven together, painted a vivid mosaic of realities that spanned generations and experiences.

What set this project apart was its commitment to authenticity, as the interviews took place in the natural environments of the participants. This approach allowed for a more profound and genuine connection with the interviewees, fostering an environment where their stories could truly shine.

The culmination of this extraordinary effort was the inaugural exhibition, which transcended linguistic boundaries by presenting its content in Arabic, German, and English. The exhibition was held in a vibrant part of the city of Vienna, achieved resounding success, drawing in a diverse crowd of over 200 attendees, including members of the Lebanese diaspora in Austria and curious Austrians alike.

Sometimes I wonder: I have re-read the stories so many times, I did the interviews, and yet still I get goosebumps. Maybe it is because I know their faces, I know their surroundings. We shared a time together, so it’s not just a story. It is reality. It is a true lived human life. Talking about something that could happen to every one of us.”

Stephanie de la Barra

In essence, this project served as a powerful testament to the universality of human experiences, transcending borders, languages, and cultures to bring forth a deeper understanding of the shared threads that bind us all.

Upon introspection, Stephanie acknowledges having some apprehension about how people might perceive a mixed team sharing these stories, instead of an all-lebanese team. However, the pivotal inquiry was never whether they had the right to do it; rather, it centered around their intentions, the approach they would adopt, and their intended audience.

Fortunately, a heartfelt conversation with people in Lebanon, convinced her and her team to embrace the idea. They were gratified to witness the genuine appreciation of individuals who were touched by the fact that the group cared deeply enough to amplify and disseminate their stories.

What lies ahead for “Lebanon- In a State of Unrest”?

As interest in the stories curated by Stephanie and her dedicated team continues to grow, they are actively preparing to take their project to the next level. Their ambitious vision includes the publication of a book featuring these compelling narratives in both Arabic and English, ensuring wider accessibility and impact.

Furthermore, their commitment to raising awareness and fostering dialogue extends beyond the pages of a book. Stephanie and her team have set their sights on bringing the exhibition to Lebanon and various regions of Europe. In this endeavour, they eagerly anticipate collaborations with other human rights organizations, harnessing the collective power of like-minded groups to amplify the voices and experiences of those often unheard.

Discover further details about this incredible project by visiting their Instagram profile: @inastateof_unrest.

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