Aamha//قمحة: Uncovering Beirut’s Phantom Ecologies

rendering of newspaper clippings with images of Beirut and text in Arabic

The National Institutes of Health defines a phantom limb as the perception of pain or discomfort in a limb that is no longer there. This project explores the notion of phantom limbs in urban environments, investigating what has been forgotten, gone unseen, or been left uncontained: ghost Ecologies lurk hidden, but very much present.

Beirut is no stranger to staggering occurrences, in its more recent history, Lebanon has found itself in turmoil for over half a decade. A singular event is not what caused the upheaval. Besides the political vulnerability that Lebanon has–unfortunately–adapted to, an unprecedented economic crisis has pushed the people to the brink of hopelessness. An uprising was the people’s answer. On August 4, 2020, Beirut was shaken by a devastating explosion- one of the five most powerful non-nuclear explosions in human history. The blast claimed 218 lives and as many as 100,000 homes, as well as an unquantifiable degree of destruction across the country. The Grain Silos at the epicenter of the explosion were severely damaged but did not fully collapse.

In the aftermath of the explosion, wheat stored in these silos was sent flying across the city, sprouting, and spreading throughout neighborhoods, creating unexpected pockets of nature that peppered areas of industry and urbanity. The wheat grew where destruction had gone. Some may see this as a sign of hope, while others may view it as a romanticized idea of “resilience”.

Aamha (which is Arabic for “a grain”) hopes to shed light on the unseen and forgotten aspects of Beirut and explore the complexity of the city’s history and its narrative–still being written. How much can a single grain of wheat contain?

Beckoning unfiltered truth in content, Aamha (which is Arabic for “a grain”) currently investigates the impact of the wheat silos on social, economic, and cultural levels and explores its geographic, socio-political, and metaphorical aspects. As the first edition drops on August 4th of this year – the 3rd anniversary of the Beirut Blast -, crowd-sourced features will delve into the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of the population as they process their experiences through the abstraction of a single grain of wheat.

-Layal Merhi, MDes 2023