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Place Des Martyres

In a street scene two men carrying large baskets on their backs, each occupied by a scantily clad woman; man in suit and fez gestures to them.QL0w.jpg

Place des Martyres, 1973,

17 in x 22 in, Watercolor on paper

A series of ink and watercolor (aquarelles) works created by Nabil Kanso between 1971 to 1974. Kanso completed the series in New York and Beirut, based on the red-light district adjoining Beirut’s el Bourj (Al Burj) district, also known as Place des Canons, named after the cannons placed there by the Ottoman, and renamed Martyrs Place (Place des Martyrs in French) to commemorate the hanging of a number of Arab nationalists who sought independence from Ottoman tyranny.  

The works in this series depict life in and around el Bourj and offer an intimate view of street scenes and encounters between men and women.


Kanso’s series is titled “Place des Martyres”, spelled “Martyres” with an “e”. As Kanso explains, “This is a very important aspect. Since Al Burj—the area—is called ‘Place des Martyrs’, and in French, ‘Martyrs’ with an ‘r’ can be masculine or feminine. So the way I wrote it was with an “e”, ‘Place des Martyres’, which means women. Those were the martyrs in this case. And, when the plaza was destroyed during the civil war, it became also a martyr. So it’s very appropriate, because Al Burj, Place des Martyrs, was one of the first casualties of the Lebanese Civil War—it was completely destroyed. [And] this has a little bit of ironic symbolism to name it Place des Martyres, it plays on two things, the women and the place itself that [both] became martyres.” 

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