On book fairs and naked bodies in Beirut
Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/12/2009
Less than two months separate the Francophone book fair (Octobre 23 – Novembre 1st) from the Arab book fair (December 11 – December 24) at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL), yet the two events are truly worlds apart.
The Francophone book fair is at its 16th edition. Launched and sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Beirut as “Lire en Français et en Musique”, it meant to sponsor the French language at a time when French language was seen as increasingly threatened by the spread of English in Lebanon. In 2008, the organisation of the salon was handed to the Lebanese Syndicat of Importers of Books and was rechristened “Salon du Livre Francophone”. This move was meant to have a dual effect: give the book fair a more local and global aspect by securing its Lebanese anchorage and opening it to the Francophonie. Withstanding these moves, the fair is still centered around France and its cultural production. It attracts a large Lebanese francophone public for which it represents an annuel rendez-vous, an important cultural event thanks to the presence of prominent french authors and the celebration of the local francophone production (mostly journalistic, but increasingly literary). Francophone books are expensive, most of them are printed in France… so it’s no wonder the public is mostly upper class, and unsurprisingly it hails from the Mission Laïque schools (that underwent an importent expansion in the 1990s, and enjoys an increasingly muslim audience). The middle-class sectors of Lebanese society are also represented through young student groups that are brought by catholic schools.
The Arab book fair is at its 53rd edition. It’s organized by the Arab Cultural Club with the collaboration of the Lebanese Publisher’s Union. It’s not only older, but much larger than its francophone counterpart. It brings together some 176 Lebanese publishing houses (and slightly more than 20 foreign publishing houses). Most of the books you’ll find here are printed in Lebanon, a country that still remains one of the bigest publishing centers in the Arabic speaking region even though other centers have emerged and are now quite competitive. The prices are quite low, so it is no wonder the fair attracts a much large audience. You’re not likely to have a wine tasting contest over here or have a book stand offer you a glass of wine during the signing of a book (two things that are expected in the Francophone book fair). The organisers and the audience are mainly muslim and rather conservative. The number of veiled women seems to be constantly on the rise, year after year. And in the midst of all this, what did I stumble upon? Al-Jasad magazine.
Now this was quite a surprising find. Al-Jasad describes itself as a cultural magazine in arabic specialised in the body’s arts, sciences and literatures. Launched a year ago, this quarterly has just issued its fourth number.
Check its website to have a clearer picture of this unexpected magazine. I have mixed feelings about it. It is certainly groundbreaking for a local magazine. In a region where bodies, especially female ones, are increasingly hit, this quarterly doesn’t shy from showing full frontal nudity, a woman holding a man’s erect penis, antique erotic art, a pierced clitoris. But all this seems rather tame compared to what you can find on the net with a simple google search in Beirut, Dubai, Cairo or Algiers. There’s a strange gap about it, don’t u think?