2nd Place, Landscape Category, at the Sony World Photography Awards 2021

In many Muslim-majority Arab cultures, depicting living beings is strictly connected to idolatry. The Quran condemns the worship of idols since God should be the only subject of veneration. However, in Lebanon as well as in other Muslim-majority countries, the use of images for propaganda purposes portrays politicians and local personalities almost as divinities to be venerated.

Lebanon has long been hit by a deep economic crisis and about 45 per cent of the people live below the poverty line. Moreover, the riots that broke out across the country on October 17th 2019 have paralyzed the national economy exacerbating its socio-economic condition. The endemic corruption that pervades the entire Lebanese political class, which is based on clientelist relations, is not the main reason that led the population to take to the streets. In fact, for the first time, Lebanese people feel a strong desire to achieve secularization and abandon the current country's political system, which is structured on a confessional basis.

Tripoli is the second-largest city in Lebanon by population and size and is considered by the UN as the poorest city on the Mediterranean coast. It is also probably the Lebanese city where the presence of representations of both local and national personalities has the strongest visual impact.

Zaïm in Arabic corresponds to the given male name meaning “leader”, “chief” or “boss”. It can be used either in a very respectful or slang way, indicating both political or criminal leaders. This project reveals the correlation between devotional aspects of iconography, and its visual pervasiveness, at both spatial and urban level, in a very emblematic middle eastern city. At the same time, it sheds light on some of the political personalities against which the protests that shook Lebanon in 2019 have been hurled.