Until 24 November 2013
Art Syria exhibition is comprised of works by seven established artists, all Syrian in nationality. Art Syria was inspired by the artists that continue to live and work in Syria today, despite the strife and danger that they face. All of the works that comprise Art Syria have been created in the past three years, documenting in their own way the civil war and its effect on the Syrian people. Each artist has responded to this period of instability by concentrating on their art; staying true to their style whilst exploring this new landscape, both geographical and metaphorical, through their practice. The technique of the artists is distinctive; media used in this exhibition includes acrylic on canvas, ink on rice paper, charcoal on card and mixed media, among other methods.
The artists included in this exhibition have exhibited in solo and collective shows throughout the Middle East, Europe and the United States; and their works can be found in important private and public collections, as well as at prestigious Biennales. The work of Youssef Abdelke in particular can be found in the Kuwait National Museum, Kuwait City, National Museum of Damascus, and British Museum in London.
Mounir Al Sharaani
It is often said that the art produced today should relate to the society we are currently living in; art should be a statement of our time. Meem Gallery’s exhibition, Art Syria, reflects this notion as it relates directly to the artists’ personal experiences within Syria today. Our aim is to bring closer attention to what is happening in Syria to a wider audience, and to give the artists a new platform to exhibit their work.
Since 2010, Meem has initiated a programme looking at art from across the Middle East, with exhibitions like Art Sudan, Art Palestine, Art Morocco and Art in Iraq Today. Art Syria is an essential part of Meem’s ongoing programme dedicated to promoting creative talent in the Middle East. It is the first public exhibition at Meem devoted to Syrian art. Previously, during Abu Dhabi Art, the gallery exhibited key works by the modern Syrian masters Louay Kayyali and Fateh Moudarres; however, this is the first comprehensive display dedicated to the work of contemporary Syrian artists.
Art Syria is an exhibition that reflects what is happening today, depicting the reality of the situation within Syria through the eyes of artists—acting as an alternative means of documenting the bloodshed and turmoil experienced by the Syrian people today. The work is a testament to humanity and the ability to overcome the horrors of war through art.
What I find incredible is that the work has come out of a country that is in the throws of one of the most violent civil wars in recent times. It has been produced by incredibly creative artists based within Syria, who refuse to give up. As stated by Hala Abdallah, the wife of Youssef Abdelke, to Reuters shortly after his arrest in July 2013: ‘Youssef had made a decision to resist having to leave Syria again. He refused to seek French citizenship when he was in France, he used to say that if someone sees a fire in his house he will try to extinguish it, not run away.’
In November 2011, I sat down with Yaser Safi and Nasser Hussein in Downtown Beirut, after an introduction by Dia Azzawi—while Dia and I were setting up Art in Iraq Today, a co-curated project, at the Beirut Exhibition Center. At that point we were discussing a joint show with Yaser Safi and Nasser Hussein. Because of the civil war in Syria, communication was halted; however, a few months later, in March 2012, an exhibition was launched at Mashrabia Gallery in Cairo, co-curated by Mounir Shaarani and Stefania Angarano, called Artists from Today’s Syria, which included the work of Youssef Abdelke, Heba Akkad, Assem Al-Basha, Tarek Boteihy, Nasser Hussein, Fadi Yazigi, Edward Shahda, Yaser Safi, Abdallah Murad, and Mounir Shaarani. In June 2012 we spoke to Yaser and suggested bringing available elements of this exhibition to Dubai in 2013.
The civil war worsened and there was silence. Then one year later, in June 2013, we were informed that the project was back on schedule; all the works were being put together for shipment to Dubai and we were expected to receive them in July 2013. Two weeks after the works had been shipped from Damascus in July, one of the exhibiting artists, Youssef Abdelke was arrested for his political views by the Assad regime and then released one month later.
‘One cannot but deplore and condemn the arrest of Youssef Abdelke and his two comrades. This mentality, which treats the holder of an opinion as a criminal, has damaged Arab humanity and culture,’ Adonis, a fellow Syrian who is the Arab world’s leading modernist poet, told Reuters following the arrest of the artist.
Depicting the reality of the situation is a key responsibility of the artists, and one that they have undertaken wholeheartedly. I cannot thank enough the artists participating in Art Syria: Youssef Abdelke, Fadi Yazigi, Mounir Sharaani, Abdallah Murad, Yaser Safi, Nasser Hussein and Edward Shahda. You have produced work that is all-inspiring and under the most difficult of circumstances.
I would also like to thank Dia Azzawi for introducing me to Yaser Safi and Nasser Hussein back in 2011, to Yaser Safi for coordinating all aspects of this project, to Kaissar Rizkallah and Badr El Hage for their support with this project and to Stephania Angarano and Mounir Shaarani for initiating the original project in Cairo in March 2012.
Managing Director, Meem Gallery
Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society
9 October 2013
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