Authorities in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut removed a sculpture from a central square in the city last week after a viral photo showed that from a certain top-angle, the statue evokes the shape of the Star of David.
Beirut’s governor, Ziad Shabib, ordered the removal of British artist Nathaniel Rackowe’s metal sculpture “LP46” (2018) from the city’s Martyr Square on December 15, following claims that the artwork propagated Zionism and normalization with Israel, the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported.
A blue Star of David centers Israel’s national flag. Lebanon and Israel have been enemy states since 1948.
The controversy was sparked by a viral photo taken from a balcony at one of the buildings surrounding the square on the night of December 14. “What is this star doing on top of these ancient rocks at the center of Beirut? Can somebody explain this to us?” the photo’s caption read. A Twitter storm ensued, abounding with condemnations, calls for an investigation, and conspiracy theories, including allegations that the sculpture was a Zionist plot perpetrated by the anti-corruption protesters who have been flooding the city’s streets in the past two months.
Rackowe’s sculpture, formed of three empty and overlapping 138-inch steel cubes lined with neon lights, stood at the square for more than a year before the controversy erupted. It was commissioned by the Beirut-based Letitia Gallery as part of the project the Shape of a City in June of 2018.
Both Rackowe and Letitia Gallery have denied any connection between the sculpture and the revolutionaries or the Star of David.
“The sculpture was inspired by the architecture and structures I saw around Beirut,” Rackowe explained in a statement following the governer’s decision. “The bones of new buildings being built, and old buildings coming down. I used light to transform the hard material of steel, as a means to reveal beauty in the city.”
“This sculpture is for the people of Beirut and of Lebanon, to celebrate the incredible nature of the place they call home,” Rackowe added.
In an email to Hyperallergic, Letitia Gallery clarified that “the artwork is supposed to be seen from front and side and not from above.”
Letitia continued to explain that the accusations against the sculpture are geometrically false. “Some believers in the conspiracy theory liked to see the Star of David, knowing that the mentioned star is composed of two equal and opposite triangles and does not resemble the art piece at all,” the gallery said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic.
Furthermore, the gallery said that the piece was installed at the square a year and a half before the outbreak of the October 17, 2019 revolution. It also provided Hyperallergic with documents that show that the installation had received all necessary licenses and permissions from the Governor of Beirut, the Municipality of Beirut, Directorate General of Antiquities, and other relevant bodies.
Not all Beirutis found the sculpture offensive. “It’s just a cube, you morons,” Twitter user Rita Hamaty commented. Writer Joey Ayoub tweeted: “Yes we now have to spend some time telling people that the art installation in downtown is not a Star of David (as some are saying) because everything is stupid and we’re absolutely not anti-semitic and Lebanese politics is a caricature of itself.” Journalist Luna Safwan exclaimed: “Do we even need to discuss or comment on the priorities in #Lebanon?”
Letitia called on all Lebanese “to be careful before publishing such photos due to the sensitivity of the issue, and thus such unhealthy and false news, may endanger the lives of its workers.”