NABATIEH, Lebanon: While tires have become a symbol of protest in Lebanon as they are burned and used to block roads, youth activists in Nabatieh are putting a new spin on the tarnished image of used wheels, transforming them into colorful decorations with a message of harmony.
This Sunday evening the central square of the southern city began to resemble a garden as activists from the Youth Network for Civic Activism and the Days Organization have created a display of colorful tires, reimagined as flower pots, stools and coffee tables.
The painted tires are part of “a bid to express our rejection of the practice of burning tires which has dominated the Lebanese street recently,” according to one participant.
The project sees tires painted in various colors to represent the different segments and political affiliations of Lebanese society, but as a harmonious mosaic rather than an ugly image of political divisions.
The tires, painted blue, yellow, green, orange, red and other colors, are spread out through areas of the city to express “the necessity of these colors and shades meeting and coexisting for the interest of the nation,” activist Hamza Abu Zeid explained.
“We, the YNCA, are concerned with environmental, cultural and social issues, particularly those for youth,” adds organizer Leila Sarhan, who explained that idea to take action was prompted by the tire burnings that occurred after the recent kidnapping of Lebanese in Syria and rising sectarian tensions around the country. The YNCA wanted to present an alternative form of expression and use for these tires, rather than burning and blocking roads.
“Burning tires is not civilized, not for our society nor our environment. We consider it both environmental pollution and an omen of civil war,” Sarhan says.
The initiative began with a simple message board placed in the Nabatieh souks asking people if they support the burning of tires. People posted responses – a unanimous “no.”
“After we saw everyone was against burning tires, we decided to go into detail with people about how to benefit from this lethal, black rubber. The ideas ranged from painting the used tires in many colors to using them for decoration in public gardens and around neighborhoods in artistic ways,” Sarhan explains.
Recycling the rubber tires for new uses such as seats, coffee tables and flower pots, is as also an effort to raise concerns about the environment. The initiative, launched shortly after the National Day of Action for Zero Waste, also asks youths to present ideas about ways society can benefit from used tires instead of burning them and polluting the air. They can post their responses on another message board at the corner of the main display in the center of town.
“When we talk about a healthy environment, that should also include people’s love and care for their cities, villages, streets and homes. We fear for our country and we wanted to show that although we are against war and against sectarianism we support freedom of expression but in a civilized manner which would allow us to express our culture instead of being destructive,” Sarhan says.
The colorful tire artwork is displayed in small neighborhoods and alleyways around Nabatieh. Not just decorative, the color choices are also significant, using the colors of different Lebanese parties and political movements. Sarhan explains that they chose these colors to make a point about Lebanon’s inability to break out of the mindset of defining everyone by their political affiliation. Notably, the political colors are represented but one important, symbolic color has been left out.
“The color white was excluded because it symbolizes peace, which we have yet to achieve and wanted to represent honestly,” Sarhan says, also expressing her hopes that the message will spread.
“A large number of organizations called us asking if they could use this idea – our answer was clear, that we don’t have a monopoly on this idea as it is an environmental initiative that concerns all people,” she adds.
Dalal Mroue, whose home overlooks one of these tire arrangements, says the display has “changed the idea of a tire from something ugly to something beautiful.” She has invited her neighbors over to sip coffee served on the tires turned coffee tables, as her and her guests sit on surrounding tires and enjoy the display.
Mahmoud Fakih, who has asthma, complains that the smoke from cigarettes and narguileh bothers him – as does the pollution from burning tires. “Now is the time to defeat this black smoke and decorate the tires instead.”