It was a scorching hot July evening when the sun would not just give it a rest. The setting was a deliriously dull arts bazaar in Beirut’s epicenter. My significant other was force dragging me out of there, sensing our skin was only minutes away from melting off our bones. He was concerned he would pass out before he could find us some shade or maybe even an ice bucket. As we made our way out, we paused by an unassuming booth adorned only by an enormous picture of some neatly painted stairs. The young thing behind the table gave me a fluorescent green piece of recycled paper. It was there and then that I opened up to the beautiful world of the Dihzahyners.

With a bit of research, you’ll find out that the story of the Dihzahyners represents a true model in altruism. They are a bunch of proactive designers, most of them fresh out of the design incubator, who get together every other month or so, and work on embellishing the city’s concrete sprawl. They rise and shine at the crack of dawn and are onsite by 6a.m. to sweep the site clean and then take out their brushes and push the walls of their creativity until they end up with a chromatic sight for sore eyes. And on top of devoting their time, sweat, and energy to this entirely selfless deed, they even bring their own resources to the table, self-financing these endeavors so as to give some of the most ghastly looking stairs in Beirut a new lease on life. When the Dihzahyners pack up and go their separate ways, the tokens of their love for their city remain for the viewing pleasure of Beirutis.


Accidental heroes
It was by mere chance that the charming doings of the Dihzahyners – the dictionary enunciation of the word “designers” – came to be. Lana Chukri, an art director at ad agency Leo Burnett, Dubai and one of the instigators of the initiative, had started a Facebook group called “Strictly Dihzahyners”, the aim of which was keeping design  graduates from local universities connected. When fellow Dihzahyner Jubran Elias, a web designer and illustrator at Maya Zankhoul Design, Beirut, posted a picture of “Scala”, a gripping rainbow-colored stairway painting completed in Wuppertal by German artist Horst Gläsker, positive comments and wishes for replicating the experience in Lebanon poured in. So Chukri popped the million dollar question: “Why can’t we?” With a handful of paintbrushes and paint rollers, some industrial paint and masking tape for mock-ups, along with bucketsful of determination, the tiny group of Dihzahyners embarked on their first mission – a cracked staircase in Sakiet el Janzier that was parched for some color. The premier event, which fell on April 8, was immediately lauded on the Dihzahyners’ social media. So the gang of 20-somethings decided to give it yet another go, this time picking some derelict stairs at the end of Bliss Street.

After eight arduous long hours, to complete, the paintjob played out like piano keys and was an artistic feat. “We wanted to aim at making a real difference in the landscape of Lebanon, and really change communities that people live in,” explain the Dihzahyners, never dropping the plural voice or the “we” fearing individual voices would overshadow the teamwork and their impressive accomplishments. “We thought that given the fact that we were still a small group … that we would start with stairs and go on to work on bigger things such as walls and so on. We wanted to start with smaller projects and from there create a real movement to help make over the way Beirut looks as well as the way people feel once they begin living in a more rejuvenated community!”

In a matter of weeks, the Dihzahyners had evolved into an aspiring crew with a common passion, growing significantly in numbers to include designers, designers in the making, and whoever else felt like jumping in. By then, their initiatives went by volumes, which they dubbed “Paint Up!”, and for their third intervention they took on the daunting task of creating a mosaic pattern on some rundown stairs in the neighborhood of Mar Mikhail. The labor-intensive artwork required some serious legwork. “We always work in rounds, so while some are painting, others rest,” according to the Dihzahyners, who today include 25 stable members. “The team is so helpful and we always look out for whoever needs a little break.”

With Paint Up! V.4, they upped the ante some more with a jaw dropping geometrical design dripping with vibrancy on yet another chipped staircase in Mar Mikhael. “Our main ethos, is a more beautiful atmosphere to live in, makes for a more beautiful society to live in. If we can change our surroundings, we can ignite change in people’s overall feelings, and eventually even sway their behavior towards each other and towards their country at large,” the Dihzahyners argue.

The streets are my canvas
As for their latest installment, they took part in White Wall, the street art and urban intervention festival currently underway across the city. If you visit the Vendome Stairs in Mar Mikhael you’ll notice the Dihzahyners’ evolution firsthand, their newest hit-and-run being a series of delicately executed architectural cityscapes. They tell me that choosing themes and spots is not something that happens at random.

“We take pictures of any place that any of the team members thinks of or stumbles upon, upload them on our private events page, and start making mock-ups for themes. And then, according to Facebook Likes, we vote on which location/theme everyone generally likes best! It’s a super constructed system and helps make it a group decision,” they remark.

The Dihzahyners’ resources might be limited, but their ideas and aspirations are not. “Our long-term vision is to continue growing, creating initiatives like the ones we have already undertaken, and hopefully, whether months or years down the line, reconstructing entire communities and cities, maybe even moving outside Beirut to neighboring cities too,” they shout, going on to add, “This is mainly why we’re looking for sponsorship, parties who are willing to possibly fund bigger and greater events.”

The Dihzahyners have been putting their money where their mouth is. They have been brushing up the mood of the city in more ways than one. And the only way we can think of saluting their efforts is to woo them the way Jack Nicholson wooed Helen Hunt in “As Good As It Gets”: “You make me want to be a better man.”


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