Chiclets and clothes pegs: "Going back to my Beirut roots"

In a new exhibition, Lebanese artist Hossam Bokeili recalls his Beirut childhood memories through memorabilia portrayed in a pop-art style. MENASSAT met with the artist during his Beirut installation.
Lebanon Pop Art Houssam Bokeili Clothes Pin
A piece from Lebanese artist Hossam Bokeili's exhibit in Beirut.

BEIRUT, June 26, 2009, (MENASSAT) – Beirut 1976. What comes to mind? Many of those who lived through the Lebanese civil war would perhaps cite sectarian conflict and the entrance of thousands of Syrian troops into the country. But for Hossam Bokeili, it is not such dark aspects that occupy his memory of childhood in Beirut, but rather a packet of chewing gum, a clothes peg, and his school bus.

Describing the objects that make up the installations for his most recent Beirut exhibit, Bokeili told MENASSAT, “I took the things I liked most and what I remember most from my childhood here."

Having recently returned to Beirut after living abroad for 34 years Bokeili's installations are a combination of photography and painting that give his objects a distinct pop-art feel.

On one wall in the second floor of the Beirut exhibition space Zico House, a large painting of a yellow, red, and black packet of Chiclets chewing gum is mounted on the wall - a consumer item familiar to Lebanese even now.

“This one is very important to me,” says Bokeili pointing at the Chiclets painting, "I love the packet and the logo. It (the packet) used to be bigger when I was a child. We used to make flutes out of it, I remember.”

And just as the popular chewing gum embodies Boekili’s childhood memories, it was also one of the first items Bokeili came across on his return to his homeland.

“I was so happy when I saw them (Chiclets) after I landed. We don’t have these in France, I think. I haven’t seen them at least,” he said.

The wall across the second floor exhibition space room is entirely occupied by a large painting, divided into three parts, showing Bokeili’s old school bus, the driver, and two smiling school children.

The two children, depicted in cartoon format, are the characters in the popular Lebanese comic “Little Lulu" - one of the artist’s main literary influences from childhood.

The chauffeur in the paiting on the other hand is shown as a real character, his prominent dark silhouette taking up much of the first half of the painting.

“I remember the chauffeur well. I used to see him every day. That’s why I made him real,” says Boikili.

As for the bus itself, Bokeili had a recent nostalgic encounter with the dusty gray and black vehicle that used to take him to school.

“I found it parked in a lot at my old school the other day, filled with drawings and writings of the school children. I got so excited that I called my brother in France to tell him about it,” he said.

In the second part of the exhibition, on the third floor of the venue, are photographs and a few paintings following the same pop-art theme, only they have been formed using computer design programs like Photoshop.

Among the objects are an enlarged soda-can opener, a series of Beirut street drainers covered in a mud green color, and another larger-than-life clothes peg painted in a multitude of colors.

On the lower floor, “I’ve used the technique that represented that époque, the 1970s. Up here it’s about modern techniques because it represents present day,” Bokeili said.

In the end, the artist says he hopes pop-art will continue to gain ground in the Lebanese art scene - if nothing more than because the objects used in pop art "are simple, sometimes unappreciated, items we use in everyday life."

“What I did here was take objects I liked and gave them value,” he concluded.

Bokeili's exhibition closed on the 24th of June. He can be contacted at