Painting Syria: artists draw hope from the destruction
“Syria expresses the feelings of displaced Syrians about the events unfolding in their country” is the title of Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s latest exhibition. “As each day brings word of the killing of another friend or family member, we feel silenced and immobile, unable to do anything, help in any way or change anything. This show is my way of reaching out, of voicing my pain and making the world aware of the suffering of my people,” says the artist, who now lives in Dubai. Curated by well-known Syrian artist Safwan Dahoul, the exhibition features video, digital and installation art and provides insights into the political and social upheavals in Syria that led to the uprising and the subsequent destruction and violence in the country.
The show includes many different series of works spread across several rooms. One series traces the timeline of the Syrian revolution with digital artworks depicting specific events such as the futile efforts of the UN monitors and ignored ceasefire, through symbols such as torn maps of Syria, fallen chess pawns, a bullet-ridden “stop” sign, burnt paper and a UN flag in red. A second series features memorials to specific villages and towns affected by the uprising. Azzam has combined pictures of historical sites, traditional textiles, flora and fauna and other typical features of the places with images of protesters from those places to create these poignant memorials. Each piece is titled “In the revolution” followed by the name of the area that witnessed the revolution. The retro feel of the works expresses a longing for a past that has been destroyed for ever by the present turmoil.
In another series, titled “Syrian Museum”, Azzam has incorporated iconic subjects from famous paintings by great European masters, such as “The Scream” by Edvard Munch and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, into images of destroyed areas of Syria. The idea is to show the contrast between the greatest achievements of human beings and the destruction they are capable of causing. “Goya’s famous painting expresses grief at the death of 80 people on May 3, 1808, during the Spanish war. But in Syria so many are dying every single day for the last two years and nobody seems to care. I have used the women from a Gauguin painting to depict the sad condition of Syrian women in refugee camps. And the reference to Dali comments on the fact that the situation in my country is even more surreal than his paintings. But the dancers from Matisse’s famous painting holding hands and dancing on the rubble of a destroyed building represent the resilience and determination of the Syrian people to keep fighting despite all odds,” Azzam says.
Despite the dismal situation in his country and the mood of the show, Azzam chooses to stay positive: An image has a grenade transformed into a vase decorated with colourful flowers. “So far the Syrian Spring has been a bloody revolution. But we have to begin preparing for the next Syrian Spring, one that we are sure will come soon,” Azzam says.
Syria will run at The Ayyam Art Centre, Al Quoz, until December 31.