It's a familiar sight on the streets of Beirut: women crouched on the sidewalk asking for spare change, children knocking on car windows trying to sell chewing gum or trinkets, young boys ready to shine your shoes for a few Lebanese pounds.

With the influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, now estimated at 1.2 million people, the country is bubbling over with poor wanderers and panhandlers. While most people have chosen to ignore the plight of these invisible 'others,' artist Raafat Majzoub is tackling the issue head on with The Wishing Fountain, an installation sculpted from wood and painted white to portray the form of a female panhandler. The sculpture's lap is filled with water and passerby are free to pick up or drop off spare change as they see fit.



"There's just too much violence in how people perceive each other, so I decided to create The Wishing Fountain as a kind of mediator," Majzoub told Beirut.com. "Hamra street was the launching point for this project. It's based on the beggars who sit on this street in particular, and The Wishing Fountain's presence is an ode to them."

The concept of a wishing well dates back to European folklore. There was a time when clean water was a resource considered so precious, people believed it was a gift from the gods. This idea evolved to include dropping coins in a well and making a wish.

Majzoub, who has been working on the project for about a year now, says The Wishing Fountain isn't just about creating a visible and accessible point of departure for discussing the escalating phenomenon of street beggars, but also the increasing privatization of the urban sphere in Lebanon. At a time when activists are suing the state for illegally co-opting tens of thousands of square meters of Beirut's public shoreline to sell to private investors, Majzoub says The Wishing Fountain is meant to represent a piece of public space - however small - that is accessible to everyone. It is something owned and shared by everyone on the street: beggars; people looking for parking meter coins; night owls looking for change to buy a man’oushé. "It creates a much-needed tangible conversation about public and shared assets in Lebanon," the artist tells Beirut.com.



"While most local developments are investing in making more and more private spaces, it's crucial to keep bringing back the street as a main actor in our everyday social and financial lives," says Nada Fattouh, co-organizer of the Beirut Street Festival.

The Wishing Fountain, which is on display through November 12, is actually part of a larger set of events happening throughout this month and next as part of the Beirut Street Festival. The initiative aims to bridge the gap between performers and the public in an open and free sphere; to restore outdoor culture through participatory street theater and dance.

Other upcoming events within the festival include the Jinx 103 dance performance on Saturday at Zaitunay Bay, the Te Odiero project on Thursday, October 23 at Sanayeh Garden and the Perky and Fiddle Show on Friday, October 31 at Zaitunay Bay.

For a look at the complete schedule of events for the Beirut Street Festival, head to the collective's Facebook page.

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