Burj El-Murr, or the Murr Tower, remains the standing witness of the Lebanese civil war for over 15 years. It was not only occupied by succeeding militia gangs, military troops, legal forces and occupying armies, but was also used as a concrete fortress, a watch tower and a snipers nest. Its basement was notorious for being a doomed labyrinth of torture and prison cells. In spite of its location within the limits of the reconstructed Beirut Central District, this iconic building still overlooks the city and stands as a permanent ghost from the civil war.
During the period of hostilities, Burj El-Murr was affected by its extremely strategic location on the border of Wadi Abou Jmeel, a neighbourhood within downtown Beirut historically inhabited by the Jewish community and later becoming a melting pot of ethnicities and confessions. This geographical relationship between the tower and the surrounding area entailed mixed feelings of security and danger by the surviving residents.
The cupboard, a common piece of furniture, has also been associated in dreams with paradoxical feelings of either security or danger, depending whether its doors are open or closed. It is behind its closed doors that personal memories and secrets are kept. The dreamer seeks to unveil its mysteries as a keeper of family histories and reversal of fortunes. Antique cupboards of Wadi Abou Jmeel in particular, moved hands from bourgeois Jewish city dwellers to Kurdish squatters who occupied this quarter at the beginning of the war. Later on, the Kurdish squatters sold them to immigrants from South Lebanon who fled their villages after the repeated Israeli invasions since 1977. They finally settled down in the Wadi Abou Jmeel neighbourhood, abandoned by its original inhabitants due to its proximity to the green line. Mostly from rural areas and backgrounds, these newcomers converted the function of these old dilapidated cupboards into a replacement for the vernacular mattress nooks they were used to, known locally as 'Yuk'.
This artwork by Ayman Baalbaki is charged with symbols about the Wadi, the neighbourhood where he grew up and its dominating tower, still many years later, a ghostly landmark in Beirut. But it is even more about the evolution of the nature and the function of objects and places throughout the course of life. This never-finished skyscraper was built as a symbol of Beiruts financial and technical superiority before 1975. It was transformed into a military strategic outpost, mutating the urban power into a battlefield of confrontations. It only took one sniper equipped with an automatic rifle mounted by a telescopic lens posted on top of the Tower to redraw the borders of the city and shift its fate. Paul Virilio once wrote about War and Cinema I see, therefore I kill. In those few words he summarises what comes to mind when one looks at the Murr Tower: a witness of an ugly war that has yet to unfold its dirty secrets.