The Atlas Hotel

Lebanese artist Cynthia Merhej has caught our attention with her multi-disciplinary and in-progress project, Atlas Hotel. Over a series of visual features, Mashallah will follow its evolution and invite Cynthia to share her complex narrative in small e-pieces. Below, she provides a brief introduction to the project and the photos that inspired it.

Growing up in post-war Lebanon, I often heard about a city that once existed long before I was born, known as Beirut. As a child, I was lucky enough to see what was left of it. A dusty landscape littered with the artefacts of a thriving society. A town where clubs and bars ruled the night, markets buzzed during the day, and everyone and everything was coated in a golden glow.

Yes, it was a place where everything seemed perfect, but no one could ignore the ominous stirring underneath its paved streets, a black ooze that would intoxicate its citizens and engulf the city in a darkness from which it could never recover.

This imagined city remained with me until I grew up and with my project, the Atlas Hotel, I am slowly recreating this world but with my own characters, rules and settings. Inspired by the hotel resorts of the Middle East and North Africa in the 1950s and 60s, and the film industry in the region during that period, below are some of the images that prompted me to begin on this project.

The project has developed into a narrative, a story with two main characters: Nasser al-Safi, a washed-up actor, and his precocious daughter Aziza. Their lives are changing quickly and being infiltrated by new influences. For Aziza, its her comic books and Francoise Hardy records which seduce her with promises of independence, and for Nasser its the Hollywood studio that threatens to take over his comfortable position of dominance in the film industry. Its at the Atlas Hotel in Wazazat where they are forced to confront these changes and eventually, each other.

All photos from Pure Nostalgia.

Screenshots from the films The Passenger by Michelangelo Antonioni and Al-Khataya.

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