Tracy Chahwan on making the visuals for all the best “strictly-vinyl” parties in Beirut
The Lebanese cartoonist, storyteller and illustrator discusses her creative journey from being deeply involved in the Beirut music scene to being uprooted to America during the pandemic.
- Elfie Thomas
- 7 April 2022
Tracy Chahwan started illustrating posters for the Beirut Groove Collective and the night club Yukunkun when she was still a student at The Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts. Since then, her practice took a firm root in the buzzing music scene of Beirut, with her eye-catching posters being plastered all over the streets of the city. But in 2019, when she was on her way to do a year-long comics residency in Angouleme, the pandemic hit and she got stranded in the US when she was visiting her partner there. “I never thought in my life that I’d be living in the US,” she tells us. “But here I am, based in Philadelphia, the city of Rocky Balboa, since 2019.”
When putting a finger on what marks out her distinct visual language, Tracy describes it as a product of her life experiences and her “weird identity mix”. Growing up on a mediterranean island and going to a French school there, then moving to Lebanon for ten years and now “a new immigrant discovering the very strange place that is the US, trying to overcome or accept the dystopian things going on back home”.
When she knuckles down to creating something, Tracy likes to pull ideas from all kinds of styles and cultures; anything from Persian miniatures, Egyptian hieroglyphics, American indie comics or a matchbox design. She’s also a fan of 70s aesthetics and, pulling it all off with bold lines and swathes of juicy bright colour, her portfolio of music-related posters reverberates with a captivating sense of movement which makes you want to get up a dance.
Speaking of her eclectic style, the illustrator says: “We don’t really have a specific illustration tradition in Lebanon and the place itself is such a complex cultural mix of things… So it makes sense that we try to find our individuality by taking inspiration from so many different cultures and things."
Tracy would channel these influences into the work she made during many a happy year collaborating with Beirut Groove Collective to make posters for their “strictly-vinyl parties”. “The nature of these parties bring out the best in you because they’re just so fun and inspiring”, she explains. Diving even further into the musical realms of the city, Tracy began drawing at live concerts back in Beirut with a group of friends. “That was an amazing experience; it really opens up your practice.” she says. “You learn to let go and experiment more since you’re drawing live, which can be scary.” Collaborating with different musicians each week, her creative ventures took her to tiny intimate bars, grand-scale theatres, and once at a protest on Ring Bridge during the uprising in 2019.
“Having your art in conversation with your city and community is something I really miss”, says Tracy as she circles back to her current life and work in America. But since she moved she’s been getting stuck into a whole load of exciting new projects. She recently finished working on a project for the Southern Rock Band, Lee Bains + The Glory Fires; a full sleeve poster for the inside of a record, depicting different moments from the history of Southern civil rights movements. Another piece she’s proud of is her illustration for The New Yorker, for a review of the Palestinian movie Huda’s Salon. “Otherwise it’s pretty much the same,” she concludes. “Lots of music-related projects with collectives or musicians, and other things I can’t really talk about right now since they’re not definitely in motion yet!”
Tracy Chahwan: The Beirut Groove Collective poster (Copyright © Tracy Chahwan, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.