The Art of talking about Art – 12: S for Syria

What are the first few words that come to mind when you think Syria? Not art, right? And that’s why it’s time to set that right by introducing ourselves to five fine artists from Syria.

What are the first few words that come to mind when you think Syria? Not art, right? And that’s why it’s time to set that right by introducing ourselves to five fine artists from Syria. Incidentally, the capital of Syria – Damascus – is among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and has, from time immemorial, been a thriving centre of art and culture. All the more reason, it’s so painful to see the state the country and people have been reduced to today. Still, art always finds a way to survive and show the way forward. And on that optimistic note, let’s introduce ourselves to these brave, thought-provoking minds.

1. Khaled Takreti

Khaled studied Architecture and Design at Damascus University and worked at the National Museum in Damascus before moving to New York for two years (1995-1997) and then to Paris in 2006.

A range of themes deeply rooted in his cultural and historical Syrian heritage provide the source of inspiration for Takreti’s canvases. Concepts he tackles include the recent conflicts that have plagued Syria and their repercussions on the population, the lives of women in Syria, questions of identity, memory and displacement, and memories from his childhood days in Damascus. He advocates freedom of expression and creativity, which is paramount in his artistic practice.

Portrait, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm

See more from Khaled here:

2. Ammar Al-Beik

Ammar Al-Beik is a self-taught artist, filmmaker and photographer. His work has been exhibited and screened internationally, including at Sao Paulo International Film Festival, Edinburgh Documentary Film Festival, and Berlin International Film Festival. Al-Beik was the recipient of awards such as Jury Prize Winner at the Busan International Short Film Festival, Korea (2012) and Golden Award at the Rotterdam 7th Arab Film Festival, Holland (2007), among others.

In 2006, Ammar became the first Syrian filmmaker to win the award for best documentary at the Venice International Film Festival, with his work I Am the One Who Brings Flowers to her Grave, a poetic and intimate account of the lives and memories of two people who considered art to be a way of life. His The Sun’s Incubator, presented at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, explored the events of the Arab Spring.

Al-Beik’s work is renowned for his experimental nature, while at the same time it captures the essence of life in a cinematic, unconventional style often charged with political references. According to the artist, art must not only imitate, but capture life.

La Strada, From The Lost Images 2 series, 2013, Archival print, 110 x 140 cm, Edition of 7

You should take a closer look at Ammar’s work here:

3. Tammam Azzam

Tammam Azzam has come to prominence for his art that addresses the destruction and suffering of the Syrian populace in the face of the tragedies and devastations caused by conflict, as well as the apathy of the international community.

Azzam has this to say about his work and himself: “I’m an artist that’s doing artwork with a political background because of the situation, because I’m Syrian so I have to be involved in what’s happening in my country.” He adds that he is not a soldier, he doesn’t care about the regime, nor is he fighting against the regime. “I’m fighting to support people so this is the difference for me.”

Tammam Azzam is from the younger generation of Syrian artists and lives in exile in Dubai. He has had various exhibitions with Ayyam Gallery at its different locations, including London (2013), Al Quoz – Dubai (2012, 2009), DIFC Dubai (2011), Beirut and Damascus (2010).

Explore more from the mind and heart of Tammam here:

4. Hrair Sarkissian

Hrair Sarkissian is a photographer and has been based in London since 2010. His formative training took place at his father’s photography studio, where he learned to master the art of photography and developed his unique style.

Sarkissian’s practice is characterised by an element of search, as well as the dichotomy of visible/invisible. The search relates to answers about his personal memories and history, while the engagement with what is visible and what is not comes as a re-evaluation of larger historical, religious and social narratives. The invisibility versus visibility is evident in his often deserted landscapes and locations, devoid of human presence yet filled with human existence. Mankind’s intervention is, although invisible, tangible through the buildings undergoing construction or the ruined cityscapes, remnants of conflict.

Sarkissian says: “These abandoned sites represent spaces deprived of time, where the time is stopped and we quest for its existence, since its visibility does not reach perception.” The emptiness portrayed by the artist references this loss of time, which can be related to the consequences of the Syrian conflict.

In 2013, he was the first Syrian artist to ever win the Abraaj Group Art Prize in Dubai, for his series of work entitled Background. He has participated in a number of international events, and his work has been shown in institutions worldwide, including the Tate Modern in London and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.

Homesick (2014). In ‘Homesick’, Hrair Sarkissian recreated and destroyed an architecturally exact scaled model of the apartment building in Damascus where his parents are still living.

Get into the work of Hrair here:

5. Nihad Al Turk

Nihad Al Turk is a Syrian painter, who currently lives and works in Beirut. He is a self-taught artist and began drawing when he was a child, switching to painting in his teens. In the 1990s, he launched his career in Syria and with the turn of the new millennium he started exhibiting extensively with Ayyam Gallery in Beirut and Damascus, the Armory Show and Mark Hachem Gallery in New York and the Latakia Biennale in Syria (2003), where he was awarded the Golden Prize for his work, and the Damascus Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (2009).

Al Turk’s practice is informed by his extensive readings across the fields of literature, philosophy and theory. His works are complex multi-layered compositions that explore the psychology of man. His rich visual imagery ranges from monstrous creatures and mythical demons to still lives and botanical elements that stand for anti-heroes, outcasts and rebels.

Get to the bottom of what we mean here:

The American moral and social philosopher and author Eric Hoffer said, “Creativity is discontent translated into arts.” It makes perfect sense when you consider the works of the five artists we’ve introduced you to here. Keep creating.

Previous Editions:

Update: We have compiled the entire series of blog posts on The Art of Talking About Art in one place. To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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