Memorialization Art Project for the Families of the Disappeared

March 4, 2016
By Noura Saad | Hay Khabriyeh!
Jbeil Commemorative Mosaics

“I keep on waiting and I feel that I am lost”, sister of a missing exclaimed. The families of the disappeared are surviving, yet, their hearts and minds are with their beloved who disappeared during the war.

The families are unceasingly trying to get their voice heard in their quest to advocate for the right to know the fate of the missing and forcibly disappeared in Lebanon. Still, little has been done to offer psychological support for these families or honor those whose fate is still unknown. That is, up until recently.

The Memorialization Art Project was initiated by ACT for the Disappeared and Abaad – Resource Center for Gender Equality, and aimed to alleviate the families’ emotional isolation and empower them by participating in a collective effort to remember their loved ones and restore their rightful place in society.

Guided by art therapist Myra Saad from Artichoke Studio – Art Therapy Center in Lebanon, a group of relatives of missing persons from different regions joined their effort to design and implement a collaborative artwork honoring their loved ones.

Art therapy brings a unique approach to better deal with difficult emotions.

In a creative and playful environment, the sessions were directed to nurture a stronger sense of self, restore healthy coping mechanism and strengthen the support network of the families. For most of the participants, it was the first time that they participated in such a group. “The focus was on what the expressive work symbolized to the participants and the meaningfulness it held,” art therapist Myra explained. She added, “Taking part in such a communal art project and actively creating a personalized memorialization empower the families and help them regain a sense of control and accomplishment.”

From Tyre to Tripoli, passing by Bourj Shemali Camp, Beirut, and Jbeil, the relatives of the missing wanted to honor their loved ones publicly and encourage the local communities to recognize their suffering and their right to know.

The cherry on top was the event that took place in Jbeil last Saturday, February 26. The participants inaugurated in Jbeil’s public garden the mosaic which is inspired by their work, an event funded by the European Union and with the great support of the Municipality of Jbeil.



“I look at the broken pieces of the tree and I can feel that it resembles our status, yet there are green coming out of the tree despite all.” -Sister of a missing, Tyre

Nature was prominent throughout the session in Tyre. The participants related to nature in many ways; its rootedness, its serenity and hopefulness, and mostly its resilience.

Torn between grieving a loss that is always uncertain and clinging to a hope that seems irrational, the participants related their feelings to the state of a tree. A tree with roots growing through dry rocks, thick trunk maturing over a long history, some branches inexplicably cut out and missing, while the rest of the branches trying to hold and bloom.

The tree holds anxieties, lonely moments, sweet memories, tragedies, last words, a hole, hope, and strength to grow and outgrow all tragedies.

“When we got to know the other families, we were able to unite their feelings with ours” -Sister of a missing, Tyre

A commemorative plaque was inaugurated in the public garden of Tyre

Bourj Shemali Camp


“We believe that our missing people are alive until proven dead. However the community says that they are dead because it is the easiest option.” -Brother of a missing, Burj Chemali Camp

“On the wall of the cemetery facing the public road, neither with the dead and nor with the alive, somewhere in between.” That’s where the participants from Bourj El Shemali camp decided to paint a mural to commemorate their loved ones who disappeared during the war.

It was very important for this group to create their collaborative work in a public space for all passers by to see and honor. They represented their loved ones who are disappeared as a chained and abandoned tree in an unknown place, while the rest of us are in a livelier place. The birds are like the thoughts; of those imprisoned reaching out to their families and of the families awaiting to hear from their loved ones. Both sides are looking at the same moon and stars, through a glimpse of hope they are still connected.
The men took ownership of the project and confidently advocated for their cause in their community by organizing an event for the inauguration of the mural.



“This session helped me to say what I wanted to say for a long time. They ask me why I go, I answer I will always go till the day I die.” -Mother of a missing, Beirut

The group in Beirut started with women participants. They enjoyed working with craft materials, sewing and fabric. Their artwork was soft yet loud. The work created during the first sessions included a lot of representations of a daughter, a mother, a wife, a sister… Waiting. Waiting to grief. Waiting to welcome back. Waiting. Seeing their loved one in the shadow of every passer-by.

They decided to work with fabric and create a piece that can be put anywhere, representing a woman waiting by the window. The silhouette of whoever passes by behind the window seems to the woman through the curtains like the missing loved one she’s longing to meet again. A fleeting moment of hope before yet another disappointment and an everlasting wait.



“I am so happy with the work that we did with the group because it’s a way that gives hope for the families and it gives the space to talk about their suffering.” -Son of a missing, Tripoli

In Tripoli, the group created a lot of artwork representing the state of being lost in two worlds; grieving and hoping, knowing and not knowing, etc. as being hanged in the air between the ground and the sky, being lost between the sea and the land, etc. The sea and the sky were also present in many of the images created during the first sessions.

Inspired by these ideas, the group collectively decided to create a representation of a bottle floating between a turbulent sea and a cloudy sky with the fate of the missing in it, unknown whether it’ll ever reach the shore or if it’ll remain forever lost. In the midst of all this turmoil, a sun shyly shines behind the clouds providing some warmth and hope.
The group chose to work with mosaic which they highlighted as part of Tripoli’s tradition and culture.



“I want Lebanon to commemorate our missing every year, to keep them alive in the society till the day we will know their fate.” -Sister of a missing, Jbeil

A bird was often represented in the different participants’ artwork as for them it represents the hope. At some point the phoenix started to make an appearance and the whole group strongly related to it. This is because the phoenix is part of Jbeil’s culture and the myth says that this colorful plumage and golden tail bird near the end of its life, burns itself and is reduced to ashes, from which a new young phoenix reborn arises. The phoenix arises from its own ashes, symbolizing immortality. Thus the families used it to symbolize their hope and prayers that the issue of the missing will be solved despite the current situation.

The commemorative mosaics is now in display in Jbeil public garden.