Vertan and his graffiti artists’ friends were contacted on a warm November day by an enthusiastic graphic print producer who said she wanted to do a book to show appreciation towards the art of the Lebanese Revolution graffiti.
One can not possibly walk through the streets of Beirut and not admire the beauty and colors of the street art, especially the ones drawn on sights during the 17 October Lebanese Revolution.
The Wall of Shame, the Angel Baby on the Martyr Statue, the Reepicheep, the hands opening up the walls to Parliament, and more; all street arts worth admiring and meditating on their messages for a minute or two.
A graphic print producer apparently saw a business opportunity in them. She decided to create a book compiling these arts and, as it came to be, make a profit from it.
She went on looking for the graffiti artists according to their arts on the walls of Beirut and emailed them for their consent based on the proposal that this would be a book to show appreciation of the revolution arts.
The email had an approval form attached for the artists to sign. Some signed the form, many refused not wanting their arts to be part of her book project. However, according to these artists, she proceeded anyway, featuring their arts in her book.
The last time any of the artists heard from her was in December when she asked them to send the highest resolution version of their artwork.
Yara, one of the artists featured in the book, told us that she decided to contact again the graphic print producer on Wednesday, February 5th, to ask about the release date of the book.
It is then that she found out from the response that there was a book signing the following day, Thursday, February 6th, at 6:00 pm in Beit Beirut. According to the artists, they weren’t even given the courtesy to be informed or invited.
In response, the book producer invited her to the book signing, attaching a link Yara can access to “buy” the book her art was featured in, at a discounted price.
When Yara told her that she will not be able to make it to the book signing, the producer promised to send her photos. According to Yara, the book producer reportedly refused to give the book for free and insisted that it could be sold to her at a discounted price.
After that exchange, the day before the book signing event, the book producer sent out an email inviting all the artists she has featured in her book, estimated to be 200 artists.
As reported by the artists, the original artworks were featured and not photos of them, alongside her writing. Even though many did not approve of their art being used, all artists were credited in the book, but not on social media before the book signing event.
The artists shared that they were in the dark about the book’s name, its release, and its event until Yara took it upon herself to follow up with the graphic print producer, now the author of the book.
They feel angry at having been ‘exploited’ and ignored then asked to pay for the book if they want a copy. “We are all artists, we know how it goes,” Yara says,” if there’s a book featuring your art and you were not compensated for it, you get at least two free copies.”
That would be the norm. Yet, giving away 2 copies for 200 artists wouldn’t be good business when the book is priced at 122$; even if it is the arts of these 200 artists that have made that book possible.
The artists found out only on the day of the book signing that the book is priced at 122$ on normal days, and at 66$ as a discount for February, the book’s launching month.
A person claiming to know the producer posted on FB that the book couldn’t have cost any close to that price since the printing company is owned by the parents of the book producer; a family business.
Believing that they have been scammed, the artists and their supporters broke into Beit Beirut during the book signing event and confronted the book producer, also with what they saw there of the book price.
“This is a revolution of the poor! Of the hungry! And you are selling a book about the revolution for 120$?!” Protesters exclaimed angrily at her.
The producer retorted that the book is100,000 LBP and not 120$ as alleged and that a portion of the proceeds will go to “grassroots Lebanese NGOs.”
The artists demanded that the book gets given for free -just like the newspaper revolutionaries have published– as they believe it is a book about a revolution against oligarchism and poverty and, hence, no one should benefit off the backs of the revolution and the revolutionaries.
One artist decided to check later at a library for the exact price of the book, but the book did not have a price on it yet.
“Not once since we got in contact with her did she mention anything about proceeds going to an NGO. Not once in her captions and comments did she mention any donation, up until I posted about it,” Yara explains.
The book producer went on to explain that her team wanted the artists to pay to be featured, but she “heroically” refused. She believes that her book would benefit the artists as it will give them “exposure.”
She proceeded to say, “I am offering free space on Thursday for artists at my own costs to get further exposure and no commission is taken if they sell their work, as it is their work they are selling and I do not wish to have anything in it as I am not an art gallery.”
Yara replied by confirming that not only was she not invited beforehand, but also was not informed of the free space for artists on Thursday.
After a lot of people criticized the book producer for not even offering the book for the artists at no price, she finally agreed to give free copies. “As far as I know, I didn’t get my copy yet,” Yara told us on Friday.
These Lebanese graffiti artists find themselves furious because they believe that the arts they drew on the streets of Lebanon to fight despotism, imperialism, oligarchism, and exploitation, are now being used to support all that.
Their confrontation, which they broadcasted live from the scene, was intense with the book producer arguing, the artists accusing her of exploiting their arts and the revolution, anger and pain in the voice of the artist using a megaphone, and the security guards trying to push them away… Many guests walked out.