“When you enter a city, you enter a story”
Last Friday I visited the premiere of two new exhibitions at Färgfabriken (Swedish: the Paint Factory), located in a beautiful 19th century factory just outside of Stockholm’s city center. The main exhibition was created by the young sculptor Julia Bondesson, and the other is part of the Urban Typologies project. Considering that I don’t know anything about sculptures, I will stick to the one on urban planning. Patchwork Of Narratives, a “collage” about Beirut and Mostar, shows glimpses of two cities, that are in one way similar, but mostly, worlds apart.
Mostar is a city in the south-west of Bosnia, divided not only by a river, but also by the civil war that raged the area roughly 30 years ago. The city is mostly portrayed by a documentary, featuring residents that take you on a tour around their city, but also an international group of students that discusses the role of monuments in Mostar. The focus lays on memories. The memories that lay engraved in the urban fabric, as a constant reminder of the past. A main question here is, what memories do you want to keep? Should you emphasize on the hard moments? Some say yes, as they minimize the risk that the same mistakes will be made again. Others, however, think that it burdens the city’s residents too much.
The second tale is that of Beirut, a much larger city than Mostar. It is the capital of Lebanon, which since 1975 has suffered from a civil war and a war against Israel. The exhibition shows, just like with Mostar, people who tell you about their city, how it has changed, and how they feel about these changes. In the case of Beirut the people seem sceptical. After the war politicians wanted more grandeur. Martyr’s square, for instance, once a cosy square full of people and cars, needed to be enlarged. The movie theatre was torn down to make more space. Now the square is still there, but the people don’t come there as they used to. Also, privatization has cut people off from places they once loved to visit. One of the residents explains how the beach has become less accessible.
There is, however, a bigger problem for the people than a lost square. The many expats in the city that work for international companies have driven up housing prices. It has become increasingly difficult for locals to live and work in their city. This problem is not a problem unique to Beirut, for many major cities affordable housing has become a weak spot.
The two cities have followed different trajectories, but are both burdened by their violent past. While the people of Mostar are struggling with their history and how this is displayed by monument and the urban fabric, Beirut’s residents are faced by an urban development that more and more seems to exclude them.
I expected that the two cities would have more in common than war. Maybe they do, but it is not shown in the exhibition. Of course, both cities are trying to find a way to make things work, and are affected by their past. Patchwork of Narratives is a nice collage about two cities, and these two cities give us different things to think about. Mostar lets us think about our past and how this is represented in the urban environment. Beirut raises another, frequently heard question, namely: who has the right to the city?
Besides Patchwork of Narratives Färfabriken offers many interesting events. Check out their website for more information.