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Splendida, Ardente

“Splendida, Ardente” is a collaborative exhibition curated by SYRIA.ART, Art Represent and Galleria Gli Acrobati located in Turin, Italy.

Venue: Galleria Gli Acrobati – via Luigi Ornato, 4 – Turin, Italy
Dates: October 31 – December 23, 2017

The exhibition hosts following Syrian artists:
Yara Said  –  Noor Bahjat Almassri – Manhal Issa (Guest artist)

Art Represent is a social initiative dedicated to empowering artists affected by conflict and social upheaval. Art Represent works to create dialogue and social cohesion through art. By providing a platform for artists who belong to communities living in conflict, Art Represent believes that it gives representation to unheard voices and puts a spotlight on the creative talent of individuals who should be recognised by a global audience.

Art Represent hopes that through art, it can show a more human side to conflict and challenge the negative narratives of conflict regions and the refugees who are forced to flee from them. ( http://www.artrepresent.com/ )

Galleria Gli Acrobati is an art gallery dealing with irregular art, art therapy and artists from various parts of the world, promoting their activity as a means of knowledge and liberation of their inner reality.

Galleria Gli Acrobati is not just an exhibition venue but an atelier, a studio gallery where artists can create freely and where a range of activities such as art therapy workshops and the presentation of artifacts of residents of therapeutic communities will not only show works but the very life of the creative process in its countless manifestations. Particular attention will be given to artists from war zones who will be able to express their talents by going beyond a mere negative narrative of their condition of events victims. ( http://www.gliacrobati.com/ )

SYRIA.ART association, Art Represent and Galleria Gli Acrobati are proud to host “Splendida, Ardente” with works by Noor Bahjat and Yara Said. The exhibition will also feature an art video by Syrian artist Manhal Issa (Guest artist).

The two young artists from Damascus weave together personal experiences and critical thinking, leading us to reflect on the destructive nature of war and the “creative force” it unleashes.

Conflict redefines everything from social dynamics, to power structures, to ethics and gender identities, creating both solidarity and solitude. When living in a place and moment in history where beauty withdraws from the intimate and personal sphere to resist the daily-life that is brutalised by violence, the artistic experience and its introspection could hold the key to a new reading of human relationships and ultimately, our evolution.

Born in Damascus, Syria, in 1991, Noor Bahjat lives and works in the United Arab Emirates, after graduating summa cum laude at the Fine Arts Department of Damascus University. She had taken part to various collective exhibitions and two solo shows in Dubai and Manila (Ayyam gallery). Noor is a visual artist with an expressive style and fascination with cultural symbolism. Her works bring together intimate visions and a critical narrative of the reality she lives in.

Yara Said was born in Syria in 1991 and graduated from the Fine Arts Department of Damascus University in 2014. She had participated in the collective exhibition Feminist Art Fest and was hosted by Amnesty International for a solo exhibition in Amsterdam in 2016. She designed the flag representing the refugees’ team at the Olympics in Rio last year – now in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection and currently displayed at the Stedelijik Museum in Amsterdam. Her style goes beyond abstract and figurative categories, as she creates an anamorphic imaginary in which the visible and invisible interweave one with the other.

Yara and Noor will be in Turin from October 31 to November 4 for a series of gatherings, workshops, and conferences at the Galleria Gli Acrobati.

Text by Baiqu, Founder of Art Represent

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Among the Damascene roses

Text by Khaled Youssef, Co-founder of SYRIA.ART
Translation into English by Danii Kessjan

I have always believed in the moral superiority of women, the power of their emotions and their reason, their divine presence in the down-to-earth life of men, for I come from a Middle-East protected by a goddess who has sacrificed everything to save her lover. In my country, the hair of a woman blowing in the wind impacts the destiny of men; her footsteps move the mountains to build cities and wonders, and in the folds of her robe is written the history of the Levant. In my homeland, every morning is born of the caress of a woman…

In Damascus where I was born, we always have felt the power of the Syrian women and their ability to break the chains, to surpass and to impose themselves. From the Queen of Palmyra to the President of Parliament, including women ambassadors, professors, poets and artists, but also all those women who remain in the shadows but who nevertheless decide the course of the greatest.

Arab-Muslim societies are much differentiated from one another and very heterogeneous from one country to another and from one region to another. While the social and educational level plays an important role in women’s emancipation, it has never played a role in the pride of the Syrian woman, who in all conditions has always kept her head high.

Art has always been an area where the sensitivity of the Syrian women has found its horizon. Since the 1920s, women have painted life and dreams with the colors of hope. For a long time the Syrian artists revolted against social norms and prohibitions and the woman was at the heart of their revolt, as a protagonist, symbol or muse. Her freedom was synonymous with the liberation of the society as a whole from the historical taboos, the remnants of colonization and diverse noxious influences. Syria (whose name is of the feminine gender in Arabic) has always been a depiction of the female nature: beautiful, tender and powerful. Thus this is the way Syria is seen in the eyes of the majority of the Syrian people.

And now the weather turns, and the storm blows over the land of Zenobia, the smell of smoke replaces that of jasmine, and the roses of Damascus fade amidst the dead bodies. Seven years of war, destruction and daily hardship for the Syrian people. Everyone struggles in their own way while the majority struggles to simply survive. Syria’s destiny is deeply scarred, and in spite of our modern age it seems that mankind has learned no lesson from its history.

Our personal experience and our team’s every-day experiences at the heart of the battles in Syria, or even remotely by proxy through our loved ones, have shown us that the answer to destruction is construction, the response to human ignorance is creativity, and that the fight against the abyss begins by accentuating the existing beauty and promoting the one that seeks to flourish.

Among the Damascene roses that flourished during the war, our two artists Yara Said and Noor Bahjat Almasri distinguished themselves by their artistic production as well as by their actions and way of being. They are both flowers of the Syrian capital that cultivate beauty in its different aspects. Noor and Yara embody the Damascene young women: free and liberated while maintaining their values. With a Syrian heart and a soul open to the whole world, the two artists grew up in this vibrant and multifaceted city, ending up on the road to exile, voluntary or forced.

Generations separate us, but by knowing them closely we have recognized the spirit of our Middle-East, made of wounds but also of openness and joy of life, and above all, made of this fierce will to resist contrary winds and to create the beautiful in art and in mutual aid.

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Deep or hidden

By Marco Petrocchi, Galleria Gli Acrobati       

When artists as far apart as Yara Saïd and Noor Bahjat Al Masri are exhibited together, one is tempted to address apparent dissimilarities by appealing to the irenicism of the known opposites that complement or even attract.  This is not the case with the artistic styles facing this exhibition, which are far from comparable: on the contrary, they contradict, even irk each other and compete to attract the viewer’s unconditional attention. Oddly, the two artists are both Syrian and studied at the Damascus Academy of Fine Arts in the same years. Both consider the year 2011, the beginning of the war still raging in the region today, as a turning point in their lives as young women and artists. But what is obvious: while Yara’s painting tries to condense and melt, that of Noor inventorizes and characterizes.

The implementation of this exhibition seems to require a choice between the two artists, unintentionally rejecting the most classical and now obsolete antinomy of contemporary art: abstraction or figuration? To avoid the obsolescence of the genre, we suggest everyone follow their leaning and preference as freely as possible.

L’En-soi est seulement en soi 

Jean-Paul Sartre

Yara’s art is abstract, given that her pre-objectivity has to be seen as a Gnostic quest, an aspiration to the actual knowledge of existence as opposed to the standard perception or opinion. However, let us disregard the inflexibility of the definition and let us explore the dense palette of pigments in which alternate greys, greens, browns, and the various shades of sand, ochre, red, purple and blue, each pigment bearing the life of the gesture from which it proceeded, scratches, writing, tear drops… Colours are completed by remnants, pieces of journals and newspapers, charcoal, ink, objects and various substances which the painting seems to absorb or exude. We can see the play of shadows, the ongoing transformation of the pictorial matter, the masses emerging with lights and nocturnal splendours, the actual fruit of the artist’s sincere feelings as well as the locus of a psychic experience, the remit where thought and non-thought fight for space.

Yara’s work is not the mere result of a definite and determined intention, but the fruit of a complex interaction between emotional stimuli and consciousness, leading to a principle of indeterminacy of the world: it is through her emotional intelligence, far from any partiality, that the artist tries to lift the veil of appearances to conquer this deeper being that is hidden from her. Colour is used not as the tool of plausibility, but as an element which, beyond the figurative and the pictorial, generates a place where we are neither closer nor more distant, but only scattered. Yara moves towards liberation, liberation from all that is stable and established, highlighting what is unimaginable for most, and the eternal infinity that does not slip into inadequate external forms. An art unburdened from communication to manifest the absolutism of spontaneous being and the value of intuition as a direct experience of nature and the world. Her paintings solicit our gaze not to identify but to yield to the pulsating rhythms of creation coming forth. Brimming over with the presence that cannot be assimilated by form, playing on the relationship between transparency and opacity, the artist’s painting modulates presences and absences and in the images, only saves the evanescence drained by the fire of time.

The abstract nature of Yara’s work cannot be considered autotelic, it does not fail to remain in touch with the vicissitudes of the human condition that would make painting a ‘flat surface’ its only purpose. In her work, however, a process is initiated that opens up to the infinite objectification of the form, constantly questioning it, and at the same time absorbing it and metabolizing it until it dissolves. At times nocturnal atmospheres prevail: the night is not the opposite of the day but the state in which the day is lost, stifled by a loss that silences it and forgets it. And paradoxically, is it not the war, given its dualistic nature, this organic force that rises up against reality as an entity, satisfied with its own objectivity, which makes disaster and completion coincide? Likewise death and survival, silence and noise, the visible and the invisible, proximity and distance, the real and the imaginary, the private and the public, the inside and the outside, all the dialectical polarities, all fused into a single mass where difference is erased in the same disorder?

Yara’s realism tells us this epic of the entropy and the laceration of the world amid the rubble, dust and lights, corrupting all that is solid: destruction worse than death because it goes beyond everything it meets in the name of endless cruelty. In her work, a fractal world of perennial tensions, meaning is not contained as an overt idea or cause, but moves and rushes to shake the presence. An art that does not mimic nature but is the hypostasis of its immanence, a means through which humans question themselves as defined beings and also query their actual role in the world. Yara’s painting is not mystique, it does not refer to the direct experience of a sacred dimension, it seems rather to be related to certain subconscious impulses, like a force coming from within. The painter is the subject through which the deep proceeds and acts, she is the one who is immersed in the hidden, the invisible, in the depths of the body and the psyche. The canvas is a support, the being on the surface, the skin of what is inside and spiritual.

Such a painting gives neither spatial references nor generically figurative references: the viewer is confronted with the direct impossibility of reconciling interpretation and recognition. But the unintelligible is in itself part of the meaning we are trying to discover in a work of art. The illegible which is what eludes meaning, is not only a cluster of the unintelligible but also the representation of the original meaning to question the meaning of things. This is the heart of Yara Saïd’s art, a painting that speaks of the silence of the word: bared of any appearance the cup of the unimaginable overflows.

Je ne crois ni à ce que je touche, ni à ce que je vois.
 Je ne crois qu’à ce que je ne vois pas 
et uniquement à ce que je sens.
 
 Gustave Moreau

Noor’s painting maintains a narrative approach that uses a sort of ‘magical realism’ in which, as in an oneiric dimension, the hallucinatory quality of the images is a language to be interpreted, hieroglyphs of sorts, endlessly revealing their enigmatic aura. Let us take a closer look at this polymorphous figurative work: paintings like polyparies of images, like the polyparies of cells, heads sharing the essence of a body, bodies which hybridise technology and biology, now inseparable, welded into a monadic unit wrapped in its irreducible otherness. An animal, plant and human kingdom immersed in the same apnoea, suspended at the moment where proliferating intertwining reproduces the mystery of reciprocal descendants. The semblance of women, more than marked by Primitivist distortions and quotations from great Expressionist painters, recalls the faces of some elderly women. Faces stretched to the limit of subsidence, mended by sorcerer-surgeons to realize the dream of an ever-lasting photo-genesis, and frozen in the living flesh, the iconic pose of a resistance to the unavoidable decay, the utopia of an eternal youth which inevitably slips into its own dystopia.

We could define this painting as metaphysical in the sense that metaphysics may seem to be a dramatisation of reality, an inexhaustible machine that multiplies the burning and resonant poetic ghosts, pushing them beyond their own limits. Each image develops a paradoxical relationship with the other, each represented on the same plane of consciousness, fluctuating on the same evocative space, like an isotopy where variables, sequences, correspondences and disjunctions are all connected to each others. Noor’s painting does not depict a recognizable identity, but disharmonious relations and the cohabitation of discontinuities that are articulated in social reality. Therefore, our need for landmarks remains disappointed by the artist’s compositions: the figures live woven on the same level of an artificial synchronicity, without leaving space that can be traversed by the gaze in the sense of the depth. They are, on the other hand, positioned on horizontal and vertical planes, transcending traditional spatial relations to simultaneously experience the unilaterality and the reciprocity of their symbolism: there is no longer the world, but only the organisms of a language of silence and infinite murmur.

Noor’s creations seem to be the dark and mysterious setback of visible reality, a kind of elusive place where all these biological combinations of the imaginary that stay in the background remain the founding entities of what is transmitted to us. The artist paints with the assumption that symbols can reveal a mode of reality and a structure of the world that are not obvious at the level of immediate experience, developing a phantasmal vision that is in a relation of direct emanation with them: Noor paints in a non-space establishing a symbolic order which shines in/onto reality, awakening it and speaking to it.

The extraordinary collages by the artist are discussed separately: the images are selected to be consumed and seem to consume each other in a ruthless fight for emergence and testimony. The obsession that animates them represents the current saturation of the cultural space by the images, their complete permeation of the social and everyday life, where everything from the urban dimension to the corporeal one is experienced as aesthetics, as body tattoos show.

The effectiveness of Noor’s collages is reflected precisely in this simultaneous, fragmented and fragmentary nature that resembles the dynamics of a ‘mediatised’ world: in an orgy of representations, reality succumbs, hides and disappears. First and foremost, her collages question the absence: each fragment lacks the context in which it emerged and its original form, as well as the meaning that completeness gave it. They appear to bear a meaningless sense, an entanglement of figures that show us, from the void from which they come, the emptiness they inhabit. The detail does not work as a part of a whole, but as what does not escape.

The anxiety that the compositions echo derives precisely from this impossibility of identifying the original source of the images. They bundle up so plentifully that they become an un-done, losing their specific identity without acquiring a new one while being pieced together. These collages then become an iconoclastic process through which the destruction of images is no longer exercised, but an overproduction in which nothing remains to be seen. They reveal the unlimited nature of the representation at the intrinsic boundaries of reality, its infinite possibilities exhibited by the accumulation and the outcome of meaning, sacrificed to such abundance. In this day and age we all produce images, mostly of ourselves. We hide, we cover what remains of our lives, the rest being unutterable.

Collage as a technique also reminds us that truth is not a solid thing that resides in a specific place, it takes on different forms and measures, it is omnipresent, in objects, in language, it changes with the change of perception used, it is of free yet impure nature: what else can a collage state if not that truth can be re-written umpteenth times?

What do these two artists share? Noor seeks a hidden socio-symbolic order. Yara is in a quest for expressiveness that the wind sweeps, crossing everything. The one sees underlying structures of ‘reality’ as a social reality. The other sees the real, spectral and inexorably abstract existentiality that inhabits it. Noor thinks of the world as an infinite possibility of being in relation, and Yara gets rid of the loneliness that dwells in her heart. I answer the question by myself: beyond some biographical data, nothing unites them. Then, at the end of this catabasis in their respective poetics, I leave you with a simple, trivial question: which one do you feel drawn to?