By Carla Hazarian
LAU Tribune staff
Across grungy warehouses and old residential buildings in Lebanon, words of political meaning and colorful pictures decorate the once-blank wall –a scene that is becoming more and more familiar as each year goes by.
One man, who has played a significant part in the rise of this subculture, is Rami Mouallem, a well-known Lebanese graffiti artist.Dark and reserved, he speaks of himself quite humbly but pride shines upon his face as he talks about his art.
He is a man whose passion and career have taken him to places across the globe. What was once a hobby has now become a business and a lifestyle.
“I [originally] decided to do graffiti to transmit a message to people through an original art. That was my concept at first,” he said.
Graffiti is the art of spray painting lettering or images on property such as buildings. Traditionally deemed illegal if no permission to paint is granted, this urban art has become more acknowledged and marketed in recent years.
Mouallem, still 24, studies architecture at the Lebanese University. Graffiti is his part-time job, but he considers it more a hobby than a profession.
“Yes, I do get paid to do it most of the time, but I don’t do it for those reasons,” he said. “I do graffiti because it’s a passion and a hobby, and I want to introduce it to the Lebanese people.”
The spark that started his passion came in 2006, when he was just 19 and the Lebanese graffiti scene was still uncommon.
Driving by some street art, he found it interesting enough to further research the subject in books, online, and through video clips of hip-hop and break-dancing.Mouallem also downloaded informational videos that taught him how to paint with spray cans.
In 2007, he met up with other local graffiti artists every Sunday. Artists critiqued each others’ work, and helped fine-tune their abilities. Over time, Mouallem developed his own style.
Some of his most known slogans are “Badna Balad,” “Cha3eb Ne3sen,” and “Freedom never comes for free.”
“Lebanon is the best country, without them” was another powerful message; the Lebanese people found religious or political meaning in it.
“While the slogan was originally intended as a political pun, it ended up meaning many different things,” Mouallem said.
In his early work, the young artist used his talent to deliver messages but, over time, he felt tired with the negative emphasis in his art and decide to try a different direction.
“I wanted to focus on the positive and introduce the art of graffiti to people,” Mouallem said.
Word of his ability soon spread, and he became quite well-known. His art moved from the sides of buildings to magazines, newspapers and television.
He worked on advertising and awareness campaigns, and got to illustrate for major companies such as Porsche, Adidas, Pepsi, Smirnoff, Heineken and Vespa –to name a few.
He is also in demand to elaborately design the walls of homes, buildings, restaurants, galleries, and pubs, giving them an urban twist.Mouallem created a new business venture, “Pimp My Room,” which consists of creatively painting children’s bedrooms.
He does not advertise, relying instead on word-of-mouth and Facebook to raise awareness about the art.
Graffiti has taken him to Brazil, Turkey, France and most of the Middle East.
I asked Mouallem if there was anything he would rather be doing right now, if he got another chance.
“It would still be graffiti,” he said.