Maya Husseini, the first established Lebanese female stained glass artist, lost 30 years’ worth of work in the Beirut blast, the largest explosion in Lebanon’s history which devastated the capital on 4 August.
“I couldn’t bring myself to look at the damage. For 4 or 5 days, I didn’t go into work.”
Her phone was filled with calls and messages as disappointed people close to her shared very sad photographs of her work shattered into millions of pieces across Beirut.
Dozens of examples of Husseini’s work were reduced to rubble and crumpled metal. The prominent Sursock Museum in Beirut, for example, which used to glow with its colourful stained glass windows, was destroyed.
The destruction of one building that hurt Husseini the most was the 19th century St Louis Capuchin Cathedral, the windows for which took her two years to finish. Out of 39 windows, only three survived the blast. She believes that some pieces of artwork cannot be repaired or replicated to the standard of what they used to be, but she hopes that restoring the broken pieces of Beirut will bring back some colour to the city.
Husseini is a practicing Maronite Christian who went to church regularly when growing up and was inspired by her father who built churches and religious schools across Lebanon. She explained that at the start of her career, it was difficult to work with male church leaders because having a female in the industry was rare. Priests would hesitate to employ her because, traditionally, stained glass artists were men as physical effort is required.
The August explosion tore through neighbourhoods and their churches, and many cathedrals on Husseini’s portfolio were wrecked, like the Saint Joseph Church in Gemmayze which she worked on in 1992. Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue in Sin el-Fil was left ravaged, with the coloured glass smashed by the shock wave.
“That was when I collapsed.”
Husseini had been working to help restore the damage resulting from Lebanon’s 15-year civil war (1975-1990) and was hoping that this would be her last year of work and she could retire at 60 years old. Now, though, her plans have changed as she is determined to rebuild Beirut all over again.
“I am physically tired, but I won’t let myself stop. I have a mission. I want to fix everything that was lost in the blast.”