Khaled Akil, Syrian artist

Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1986
Lives and works in Istanbul, in Turkey

Khaled Akil was born in Aleppo, Syria, to a family with a long history of artistic and political influence. His father is the renowned painter Youssef Akil. His great maternal grandfather is the Syrian author and historical figure Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law and Political Science from the Beirut Arab University, Lebanon.

Khaled Akil has documented his experience in the country before and during the crisis. Witnessing Aleppo, one of the world’s earliest settlements, experience the worst of all tragedies dictates certain themes in his work. A rousing pas de deux between nostalgia and tragedy, his art is anything but light. It is honest, dark and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.

In his show Legend of Death, Akil uses select topographies and locations as artistic canvases to paint an updated version of bloodshed and war. The decay of a culture exemplified in red and black brushstrokes. The maps are edited to reflect the reality of war and the breakdown of an entire civilization. He uses a mix of photography and painting and layers both mediums to create bold, moving pieces. It is emotionally charged and potent.

Akil’s work seeks to transcend stereotypical media representations of the crisis; it addresses it honestly as a tragedy of epic proportions. It explores the state of affairs (or lack thereof) in Syria today, complicated with the question of a divided country. The exhibition reflects the geographical and grim human reality of Syria today and pays special attention to the destruction it has caused to Aleppo and larger Syria. At best, it is a nihilistic transformation; at worst, it is the destruction of the world’s oldest civilization.

The skyline of Aleppo and various Mesopotamian effigies are present in Akil’s work, perhaps signifying the increasingly large divide between what Syria was and what it is today. Khaled stresses the importance of honesty in his role as an artist—he doesn’t want to merely report on news and events, he wants to portray his truth in a raw and unfiltered way. If it happens to be dark, so be it. When the story of Syrian women being held as sex slaves by ISIS came out, Khaled used his art as a way to shame the international community for its lack of response.

With the current state of affairs in Syria and the country’s tragedies coexisting on many levels, Khaled seeks timelessness through his art. It is easy for a foreigner to know Syria just by the images she sees on the news or on social media; completely overlooking its vast and rich history as the cradle of civilization. In Requiem for Syria, Khaled uses a poignant mixture of birds, traditional dancers, calligraphy and blood to tell a story. Exactly what kind of story? Khaled leaves it to the viewer to decide.

The individual elements of Khaled Akil’s work—humans, birds, social injustice, topography and calligraphy— are mere symbols when portrayed by themselves. As a congruous whole, they are emotionally stirring, evoking a strong sense of truth (albeit tragic) about Syria and its future.

At its best, “art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” In that sense, Akil’s work checks all of the above and more.

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