Realizing just how many of their creative young friends were leaving Lebanon in search of work, Mohammad Abdouni and Rudy Shaheen decided to do something about it.
Both graphic design graduates, Abdouni and Shaheen were working in advertising when they began working on “F/I/M²/P” – shorthand for fashion, illustration, music, movies and photography – both as an outlet for their passions and a platform where their artistic peers could display their work.
More coffee table book than throwaway magazine, this bimonthly publication – scheduled to be launched Monday – intends to showcase the finest Lebanese talent.
“It’s about exhibiting young, under-exposed, incredibly talented Lebanese people,” Shaheen says.
“F/I/M²/P” has a stable team behind it, with Abdouni and Shaheen as creative directors, an editor, a fashion editor and a communications manager. On top of that there’ll be the “people behind F/I/M²/P,” a rotating team who contribute to each issue. All will be Lebanese, whether they live in the country or not.
Many are friends of friends, but they have also drawn upon creative input from the blogosphere and social networking sites, and deliberately picked smaller names over Mashrou3 Leila, say – perhaps Lebanon’s best known “alternative” band.
“It’s ridiculous,” Abdouni says. “Some of the bands are absolutely amazing, and I guess the reason some bands make it and some don’t is not really based on whether they’re talented or not. It’s timing, and contacts, and if you know how to market yourself.”
Helping this fresh local talent get exposure is just what “F/I/M²/P” intends to do, while also warding off Lebanon’s brain drain. “The saddest part is that whether they’re musicians or whatever, none of them are living in this country,” Abdouni adds.
“It’s a bad time when Lebanese people are saying, ‘My son is in London and he’s making lots of money.’ I want them to be proud, to say their son is living in this country, that they’re talented and that they’re making it here.”
While there is a huge pool of creative talent in Lebanon, they say, and “amazing educational systems, especially in the arts,” the sector isn’t yet developed, so graduates struggle to find work. “One of the main aims of the magazine is to show people that basically we have so much substance here,” Abdouni says, “so much, so why not exploit it here?”
So “F/I/M²/P” aims to provide an outlet for the country’s creative minds, with the ultimate goal of encouraging people to remain in Lebanon, and for those who have set up elsewhere, to perhaps return. Shaheen himself was born and raised in Australia, but each parent is half Lebanese and he moved to Beirut four years ago.
“The people running the business and the scene just aren’t running it right,” Abdouni opines.
“A photographer friend of ours, Clara Abi Nader, is one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met and she’s been trying for nearly two years to find work. And her talent just isn’t appreciated here. People want her to film weddings. And so now she’s leaving. She’s going to Paris. We cannot keep exporting our talent.”
The few friends who do manage to find work and remain in the country, Shaheen adds, are paid peanuts.
In a similar vein to last year’s television miniseries, “Beirut I Love You,” whose focal point was young Lebanese who choose to stay in their country, “F/I/M²/P” aims to promote the country’s good qualities.
“It’s such a small country, and yet people always focus on the negatives,” Abdouni says. “These positives don’t shine and the people to blame are the people who are leaving.”
The first issue of “F/I²/M/P,” which publishes in English, runs 100 pages. It will feature work from photographer Lara Zankoul, fashion designer Missah Hajavedikian, illustrator Karen Klink and an interview with Lebanese-Canadian band Intensive Care.
“The first issue is quite long,” Shaheen admits. “We just got quite excited and kept wanting to add more. But it’s a visual magazine so you don’t get bored. Every single page is a visual display for work.”
Each issue will also have a theme, edition zero is “Rock,” but it is very much open to interpretation.
“It’s not just rock music,” Shaheen says. “It’s the image, the self-expression, and it’s beautiful how different people interpret it. Some see it as rock stars, others as tattoos, and others see it as taking photos in a movie theater.”
“It’s a playground,” Abdouni adds, “for everyone to work together and collaborate and create beautiful things.”
So far, Shaheen says, the project has been “exhausting, but so exciting.” It’s as though the spirit of the country were packaged in a magazine.
“F/I²/M/P” will be available from several bookshops and boutiques in Beirut, including Plan Bey and Paper Cup.