JASMIN, UNE AUTRE SYRIE

Edition 2 – Apr/Mai/June 2017

Jasmin, Une Autre Syrie
Quarterly magazine

During those troubled times, it seemed to us essential to offer another vision of Syria through its culture and the artistic creation of its artists.

Jasmin, Une Autre Syrie was born from the meeting of people from different horizons and cultures: French, Franco-Syrians and Syrians wishing to show their solidarity with Syria and its people.

The focus will be given on the artistic works of Syrian artists, the history of Syria (and its links with France), its literature and poetry, its cultural diversity and wealth.

Jasmin, Une Autre Syrie is meant to build a bridge between two languages, two cultures, two worlds.

This magazine with independent and non-profit funding will be published on a quarterly basis online on our Website syriaartasso.com, and annually as a print edition. It will be edited partially in French and in English languages.


Art in the Age of Information and Globalization,
and in an Era of Populism

In a time of globalization, fundamentalism, populism, hypercapitalism, migration, war on terror, and global warming, artistic commitment is crucial.

Meanwhile, it seems that the whole world is in the very early stages of a paradigm shift. These shifts are occurring in many of the world’s most basic elements and redefine the way life functions and lead to a growing decentralization movement in which the power controls of society are taken from a minority and handed over to the majority. We are in the early stages of a revolutionary paradigm shift in the consciousness of the masses that can really change society for the better. Here are four key signs:

– The Internet is giving birth to a new Age of Information, as people become more receptive and vigilant to what is actually happening in the world. A wealth of information is now available to who knows where to look. In a matter of minutes, people can now learn new skills or hear different versions of the truth. The Internet not only provides open access to information, but communication has become almost instantaneous throughout the world. In addition, through the new vibrant virtual culture, art has found new forms of expression and has acquired new perspectives. As social media allow for mass cultural exchange and intercultural communication, it is also a golden age of opportunities for artists and creative people. Relying on contemporary understandings of cross- and intercultural practices in the arts, artists and creatives can explore the nature of collaboration across or between artistic media and across or between cultures, also on a social media, such as Facebook, for instance.

Photo Credit©Khaled Youssef

– A new understanding of a world of abundance is beginning to take root in the minds of the people, as they are finally awaking to the fact that with the adoption of renewable energies, new forms of decentralized government and economics, and increased use of technological capabilities, resources are more than sufficient to meet people’s needs in the world. People are finally awaking to the fact that there is enough to go around, but just not with the current systems in place. No one claims that there is enough resources for everyone to live at current Western consumption rates, yet as Gandhi said: “The world has enough for every man’s needs, but not for every man’s greed.” A new awareness and openness to plurality is also a committed way to foster collaborations in the arts in cross- and intercultural interactions.

– A global shift in consciousness is in progress, in which people start to see themselves no longer as individuals vegetating in an isolated bubble, but rather as connected elements in the collective consciousness of planet Earth. The Internet, along with the increased capacity for travel, has allowed people from all over the world to connect. Countless areas of global society have become interconnected, and people begin to pay attention not only to their own country, but also to countries abroad. Many begin to realize that one group of people suffering means everyone is suffering. People begin to connect emotionally with life all over the world and not just their immediate home and surroundings. This new reality is showing people that there is more to life than money, as connection to all living beings is equally, if not more, valuable. Dynamic contemporary artistic practices that connect with globalized consciousness may become the next revolution in art, a new wave of art for a world of a new kind. By engaging in cross- and intercultural collaborative processes, dialogue and exchange are made explicit and valued. Such collaborative processes between artists may be challenging but they are rewarding as they engender personal transformation, artistic growth and the possibility of influencing a wider social and political arena.

– The ascent of the independent, non-corporate online media, as alternative media has become an increasingly popular choice for those wishing to remain truly informed, especially younger generations. While mainstream news is still the number one source of current world events for the masses, the tide is changing slowly, as people are awakening to the fact that corporate sponsored media are essentially propaganda and half-truths. War is becoming much more difficult to justify, as independent journalists have shed light on what the authorities always have been reluctant to disclose to the public. A prime example is the conflict in Syria. This new faction of journalism will give peace a legitimate chance, as all dirty laundry is now being aired and corrupt alliances are exposed. This, in turn, has allowed many people to deprogram themselves from the countless media they have taken in over the years, and see the world through a clearer lens in which the truth is more evident.

digital collages©danii kessjan

A paradigm shift can literally shake a society to its core, take it off its current path and put it on a brand new one. Today’s shifts are becoming a force of their own and are de facto also changing all circumstances of art. They are paving the way for new forms of art activism to set the stage for innovative artistic practices and opportunities. The artists must demonstrate their creative abilities, their human, social and political commitment, with emphasis on innovation and experimentation, not only in a culture’s art, but also in cross- and intercultural collaborative projects.

Collaboration across artistic media, on a cross- or intercultural basis, must be understood as processes of co-creation in various artistic practices, as it involves artists from different cultures who work together to create or achieve a common goal. It also involves common understandings and purposes and encompasses knowledge from diverse cultural sources, different artistic media or multiple perspectives. This form of collaboration thus involves the exchange of information and the sharing of unique processes for art making and research in different cultures and different artistic media, such as visual art, plastic art, design, music, sound composition,  theater, dance, etc.

However, new humanist ideologies and new ethical dimensions are still to be created today.

The 60s and 70s were a time of social upheaval and cultural change, people became free-thinkers, were more inclined to speak out against the status quo, and also became more self-aware and self-reliant, questioning government, established structures and belief systems, and demanding that their voices be heard. The artists of the postmodern era were anti-authoritative and exalted by nurture, they refused to recognize the authority of a single style or definition of what art should be. Their art collapsed the distinction between high culture and mass or folk culture and it tended to get rid of the boundary between art and everyday life. Postmodern artists are distinguished by their self-assured use of earlier styles and conventions and an eclectic mixture of different artistic and popular styles and media.

Today the artists are experiencing one disappointment after another, their faith in art and their inner flame are extinct, their protest and resistance, which were justified in the past, are now obsolete. Between the commercial arts, the vulgarization of concepts, the pseudo-intellectualization of certain mediocre arts and the disillusionment with regard to the various structures, belief systems and ideologies, artists are confronted with new challenges. They must face a hitherto unknown adversity and challenge a world in full mutation, engulfed in mainstream opinions, contradictions and incompatibilities, disinformation and manipulation, social insecurities, and even political diktats of a new kind.

digital collages©danii kessjan

A lingering economical crisis and the challenge of the migratory crisis have brought nationalism and fundamentalism back to the surface of the planet. The rise of populism is beginning to become a real threat to society, for it is becoming an increasingly powerful political force. Today’s populist surge seems to be a response to the apparent political failure of the established parties. Increasingly, it is also an emotional backlash to a sense of disenfranchisement from these institutionalized powers. Identifying the problem, however, the core issues that lie at the root of populism are ignorance, racism, xenophobia, fear of the unknown or fear of cultural changes.

The duty of art is sometimes to find answers, but most of the time art can not confront and defeat the political and economic “super machine” that controls the populations and imposes its diktats, its dogmatic or authoritarian statements. The real challenge and genuine activism of art today will be to break the chains, to escape the boundaries imposed by a kind of “change of game” in society, to emerge from the classical egoistic attitude and to imagine a renewal of art, from a much more open and innovative perspective.

There is an obvious need for new forms of art activism. The artists must use the experience of today’s shifts in preparing and participating in the transformation of social life on a non-politicized and non-discriminatory basis, which is conducive to a revealing and enlightening art. Artists have to leave their cellar and “return the hope of a future to the world”. Artists must create conditions in which real actions that restore the true ethical dimension become the action guide for young artists. The ethics of real action should become our future aesthetic. Artists must contribute to the learning process in order to open their minds and provide their expertise for the services of building a new society open to a world shaped in diversity.

In addition to the indispensable obligation to denounce the new policy of hatred, which is now spreading like gangrene, art must also become a pedagogical path and an ethical apprenticeship to combat and disrupt ignorance and to adopt a philosophy of exchange and openness to cultural diversity. All forms of artistic expression must find their true advantages in a true globalization, in its noblest sense. The commitment of the artists to their work and the maintaining of standards of excellence are a strong force to sustain such collaborations and to promote projects. Artists and all those involved in culture must explore new horizons in other communities, countries and cultures, and show through their work that a humanist approach is beneficial and prolific for all of us, and could even create a higher value in art.

digital collages©danii kessjan

Collaborations between artists of all artistic disciplines and cultures can help the artists and the society in which they live, not only to find more creative inputs, but also to foster tolerance, combat ignorance and to prove that exchange is the promise of a better future, since they contribute to create a universality of a new kind.

Latvian violinist Guidon Kremer recently launched a multi-media project in Berlin that was broadcast live on the Internet: his orchestra Kremerata Baltica gave a concert with the screening of an animation film showing the pebble stone sculptures of the Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Although he never met Nizar Ali Badr himself, they were able to work together, Gidon Kremer explains: “He and I speak the same language.” These two arts merged, the music and the visual creation of two different artists from two different places in the world suddenly took on a deeper dimension. Here a Syrian artist could listen to the creativity from Germany, while a Latvian musician could see the creativity coming from Syria. (http://sites.arte.tv/metropolis/fr/gidon-kremer-metropolis)

Given this example, there are really a million opportunities and ways to explore. Let us imagine artists from diverse artistic disciplines and different countries, cultures and religions (or without religion) who engage in the frequent production of art by creating pluricultural works with many hands, but with one heart and soul. The results would not only be extremely exciting, original, more consolidated, more universal, but also extremely enriching on a human level.

In the dangerous climate of intolerance and open hostility today, in these extremely critical and uncertain times, it is the duty of artists and art curators not to flee backward in introspection and depression, but to promote a collective, versatile and polycultural art; an art that would be a response to populism and negativism by reinventing social interactions and multicultural relationships, thus building a bridge of true dialogue.

Art itself could become an ideology, a new one that would contain all universal values in the search for a better future, since human flourishing is the highest good of human endeavors. The artistic collaboration in cross- and intercultural exchange should become a “New Wave of Art” as it could become a new kind of artistic activism against populism, fundamentalism, negativism, disastrous diktats or stereotypes.

Essay by Khaled Youssef & Danii Kessjan
English version: Danii Kessjan


A Colorful Humanism

Inventing figures that evade the classical vision, reflecting the everyday life and the human spirit, joy, sadness, violence and hope without time or space limitations, breaking the imposed framework in order to achieve a universe peculiar to himself, while maintaining a civic and humanistic connection with today’s world, such are the impressions that the art of Yaser Safi offers to the viewer: an art that breathes and blows a wind of freedom.

We met him in Berlin, where he settled a short time ago. Yaser Safi is a discreet, courteous and considerate man. Calm and composed, his eyes speak volumes about his experience of life and exile, his artistic struggle and his fight to arrogate his values.

Yaser Safi

For Yaser Safi, to address social or political issues in art is by no means problematical or paradoxical, provided that this is achieved outside the imposed frameworks and through an independent artistic vision. From his experience of the humanly disastrous situation in Syria, he seeks to reinstall a moral vision. A commitment that is essential in our present time, meanwhile that should not, according to the artist, sacrifices artistic quality. Thus, the beauty of a work does not detract from the idea he wishes to communicate. Even when he speaks of violence, lack of freedom or death, in his paintings and engravings there is a sense of a childish infatuation, joyful or derisive, a perfume of innocence, in the manner of a child who looks with astonishment at the world around him.

Childhood is omnipresent in Yaser Safi’s artistic work, not only through the ingenuity of his characters, but also in his pictorial language which is naïve, yet only in appearance. His body of art radiates personal as well as universal values, a profound meaning which imperceptibly conceals behind ambivalent simplicity, and a will to live and transform the world into a more just and equitable space.

Yaser Safi

“Each artist must have his own color balance, since this is part of his identity and this is his own singular voice…” said Yaser Safi. Between sculpture, engraving and painting, the artist does not mix different means of expression; what inspires him is the matter itself, since “each matter has its own language, and this language must be used in creation”. This principle is applied by the artist to each of his works, and in the creative phase, he allows himself to be absorbed body and soul by his work, subduing his imminent emotions and feelings and releasing them on the canvas.

Yaser Safi dislikes to impose interpretations, but prefers to evoke “visual questions”, and to allow the viewer free choice as to deepen his own vision of the work through his cognition and imagination. If the artist tends to give titles to his artworks, he chooses them preferably short and symbolic. It leaves the viewer with a whole horizon of possibilities and the task of aligning them to compose a novel sentence or chapter, centred however on the artist’s ideas, since these titles are for the latter an alphabet.

Yaser Safi

Emptiness, the movement freed from any constraint and limit that he grants himself, and which he grants his characters, are among the outstanding elements in its work: they float in a surreal atmosphere that defies gravity. What the artist wants to show is the very spirit of these characters, because by accentuating their emotions, these take on the infinite dimensions of free space. Some characters have their feet on the ground, would it be a sign of wisdom? Not always, for sometimes we understand that it is indeed an attachment to material things and a remoteness to human values. Righteous values need an unconditional space of freedom that Yaser Safi knows how to impose in his works as an absolute necessity.

We also wonder about the notion of time in the work of Yaser Safi. Much of the artworks he has realized in recent years have been reactions to events that occurred in his homeland, one can find military details or other similar distinctive features. These situations are eloquent, even for a viewer unaware of the situation in Syria, for the dimensions are human, and the unrighteous condemned as well as the values advocated remain universal, reminding us the history of man who never ceases to repeat his mistakes, and in the midst of the beauty of life, who continues to create destruction and to bargain with death.

Yaser Safi

“An artist can not paint a rose while breathing gas” commented Yaser during a radio interview in 2015, hence his will and commitment to recreate the moral structure of Syrian civil society. From his anxiety towards his country and his anger, he does not draw hatred, but a profound reflection on what should be condemned and what should be undertaken to deal with injustice.

The great Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke commented on Yaser Safi during his exhibition in Beirut in 2015: “As they draw (a gun) on people, children, innocence and the future, Yaser’s work draws on perfection and delicacy, the brilliance of the color and the integrity of the line… in order to go further in an expression devoid of any rule …”

In this way, Yaser Safi moves away from the current technical rules of painting, and intuitively offers his lines and colors a freedom that he cherishes so much and hopes to see spread beyond his works.

Text by Khaled Youssef
Translation & Editing by Danii Kessjan
Photo credit ©Khaled Youssef


Rabi Koria Paints Syrian Poetry

To transcend the poetic metaphor with the visual image, to paint the verses in color and to transliterate their melodies, rhythms or sounds into an abstraction of lines, forms and movements, this is the recent performance of Dutch-Syrian artist Rabi Koria.

A Syrian native grown up in the Netherlands, Rabi Koria has always maintained a strong bond with his country of birth and his culture of origin. When a young child is torn from his native land and roots, he tries in adulthood ‒both consciously and unconsciously‒ to go in search of his identity, re-establish links with his genesis, trace his ancestors’ fingerprints, and search through his ascendance for a hidden plot carrying his own singular truth. There was no better way for Rabi Koria to reconnect with his roots than to explore the culture of the lost homeland ‒the culture of Syria so rich and so diverse‒ especially as a talented artist.

It is needless to present Nizar Kabbani, the great Syrian poet of love and unconditional freedom, an ardent defender of women and a distraught lover of the Damascene jasmine. His delicate and audacious verses have revolutionized Arabic poetry, and are declaimed at every street corner in Syria. Thus it is no surprise that Rabi Koria found in Kabbani’s poetry a horizon which comes into bloom and flourishes in front of his artist’s emotions and his ‘inner necessity’.

In his new series entitled ‘The Translation of Kabbani’, the artist appropriates a range of moving poems by Kabbani, investing himself in a profound and pluralistic perusal. In his artistic approach, trying out an innovative support which is painting on ceramic tiles, he releases a fusion of colors, a freedom of forms and an autonomy of movements, and gives free rein to intense emotions. The purely abstract creations are the fruit of his keen reflection and deep spiritual craving.

A world that can not be moved by the beauty of poetry would be a world on the verge to collapse. Being moved by the beauty of Syrian poetry and transliterating it into painting, each line or movement painted by Rabi Koria on his ceramic tiles is a verse, a strophe, a quatrain, a rhyme; each color or shade is the poetic metaphor that has become pictorial, the painting-poem becoming a work in synergy. Obviously, a painting as well as a poem can lead us to poetry.

In this series of paintings-poems, Rabi Koria’s artistic expression evokes a purely abstract visual language, yet in the approach of the subjects, it is marked by a keen sense of realism. Caring about the world around him and being affected by the events occurring in his homeland, he can neither escape from reality nor distance himself from it: his art that is deeply sensitive testifies even more to the quintessence of his life experiences, achievements, visions and feelings.

From this poetic inspiration comes a series of surprisingly vivid and moving paintings. While contemplating the painted works and letting ourselves be penetrated by them, the reading of Kabbani’s poetry suddenly becomes plural and takes on a quasi surrealist dimension. Begins then for the viewer/reader an immersion in an oneiric world lined with words, shapes and colors. A world devoid of preconceived vision, such as a flight towards an absolute of freedom ‒freedom that was fundamental to the poet Nizar Kabbani, as it is also to the artist Rabi Koria.

Text by Khaled Youssef
Translation by Danii Kessjan

Rabi Koria, Five letters to my mother

♦ Five letters to my mother

Good morning sweetheart.
Good morning my Saint of a sweetheart.
It has been two years mother
since the boy has sailed
on his mythical journey.
Since he hid within his luggage
the green morning of his homeland
and her stars, and her streams,
and all of her red poppy.
Since he hid in his cloths
bunches of mint and thyme,
and a Damascene Lilac.

I am alone.
The smoke of my cigarette is bored,
and even my seat of me is bored
My sorrows are like flocking birds looking for a grain field in season.
I became acquainted with the women of Europe,
I became acquainted with their tired civilization.
I toured India, and I toured China,
I toured the entire oriental world,
and nowhere I found,
a Lady to comb my golden hair.
A Lady that hides for me in her purse a sugar candy.
A lady that dresses me when I am naked,
and lifts me up when I fall.
Mother: I am that boy who sailed,
and still longes to that sugar candy.
So how come or how can I, Mother,
become a father and never grow up.

Good morning from Madrid.
How is the ‘Fullah’?
I beg you to take care of her,
That baby of a baby.
She was the dearest love to Father.
He spoiled her like his daughter.
He used to invite her to his morning coffee.
He used to feed her and water her,
and cover her with his mercy.
And when he died,
She always dreamt about his return.
She looked for him in the corners of his room.
She asked about his robe,
and asked about his newspaper,
and asked, when the summer came,
about the blue color of his eyes,
so that she can throw within his palms,
her golden coins.

I send my best regards
to a house that taught us love and mercy.
To your white flowers,
the best in the neighborhood.
To my bed, to my books,
to all of the kids in the alley.
To all of these walls we covered
with noise from our writings.
To the lazy cat sleeping on the balcony.
To the lilac climbing bush the neighbor’s window.
It has been two long years, Mother,
with the face of Damascus being like a bird,
digging within my conscience,
biting at my curtains,
and picking, with a gentle beak, at my fingers.
It has been two years Mother,
since the nights of Damascus,
the odors of Damascus,
the houses of Damascus,
have been inhabiting our imagination.
The pillar lights of her mosques,
have been guiding our sails.
As if the pillars of the Amawi,
have been planted in our hearts.
As if the orchards are still perfuming our conscience.
As if the lights and the rocks,
have all travelled with us.

This is September, Mother,
and here is sorrow bringing me his wrapped gifts.
Leaving at my window his tears and his concerns.
This is September, where is Damascus?
Where is Father and his eyes.
Where is the silk of his glances,
and where is the aroma of his coffee.
May God bless his grave.
And where is the vastness of our large house,
and where is its comfort.
And where is the stairwell laughing at the tickles of blooms,
and where is my childhood.
Draggling the tail of the cat,
and eating from the grape vine,
and snipping from the lilac.
Damascus, Damascus,
what a poem we wrote within our eyes.
What a pretty child that we crucified.
We kneeled at her feet,
and we melted in her passion,
until, we killed her with love.

Rabi Koria, The epic of sadness

♦ The epic of sadness

Your love taught me to grieve
and I have been in need, for centuries
a woman to make me grieve
for a woman, to cry upon her arms
like a sparrow
for a woman to gather my pieces
like shards of broken crystal

Your love has taught me, my lady, the worst habits
it has taught me to read my coffee cups
thousands of times a night
to experiment with alchemy,
to visit fortune tellers
It has taught me to leave my house
to comb the sidewalks
and search your face in raindrops
and in car lights
and to peruse your clothes
in the clothes of unknowns
and to search for your image
even… even…
even in the posters of advertisements
your love has taught me
to wander around, for hours
searching for a gypsies hair
that all gypsies women will envy
searching for a face, for a voice
which is all the faces and all the voices

Your love entered me… my lady
into the cities of sadness
and I before you, never entered
the cities of sadness
I did not know
that tears are the person
that a person without sadness
is only a shadow of a person

Your love taught me
to behave like a boy
to draw your face with chalk
upon the wall
upon the sails of fishermen’s boats
on the Church bells, on the crucifixes,
your love taught me, how love,
changes the map of time
Your love taught me, that when I love
the earth stops revolving,
Your love taught me things
that were never accounted for
So I read children’s fairytales
I entered the castles of Jennies
and I dreamt that she would marry me
the Sultan’s daughter
those eyes
clearer than the water of a lagoon
those lips
more desirable than the flower of pomegranates
and I dreamt that I would kidnap her
like a knight and I dreamt that I would give
her necklaces of pearl and coral
Your love taught me, my lady,
what is insanity
it taught me… how life may pass
without the Sultan’s daughter arriving

Your love taught me
How to love you in all things
in a bare winter tree,
in dry yellow leaves
in the rain, in a tempest,
in the smallest cafe, we drank in,
in the evenings… our black coffee

Your love taught me… to seek refuge
to seek refuge in hotels without names
in churches without names
in cafes without names

Your love taught me… how the night
swells the sadness of strangers
It taught me…how to see Beirut
as a woman…a tyrant of temptation
as a woman, wearing every evening
the most beautiful clothing she possesses
and sprinkling upon her breasts perfume
for the fisherman, and the princes
Your love taught me how to cry without crying
It taught me how sadness sleeps
Like a boy with his feet cut off
in the streets of the Rouche and the Hamra

Your love taught me to grieve
and I have been needing, for centuries
a woman to make me grieve
for a woman, to cry upon her arms
like a sparrow
for a woman to gather my pieces
like shards of broken crystal

Rabi Koria, Letter from under the sea

♦ Letter from under the sea

If you are my friend
Help me
to leave you

Or if you are my lover
Help me
so I can be healed of you

If I knew
that the ocean is very deep
I would not have swam

If I knew
how I would end
I would not have began

I desire you
so teach me not to desire
teach me
how to cut the roots of your love
from the depths teach me
how tears may die in the eyes
and love may commit suicide

If you are prophet,
Cleanse me from this spell
Deliver me from this atheism
Your love is like atheism
so purify me from this atheism

If you are strong
Rescue me from this ocean
For I don’t know how to swim
The blue waves
in your eyes drag me
to the depths
blue
blue
nothing but the color blue
and I have no experience in love
and no boat

If I am dear to you then take my hand
For I am filled with desire
from my head to my feet
I am breathing under water!
I am drowning
Drowning
Drowning

Rabi Koria, Light is more important than the lantern

♦ Light is more important than a lantern

Light is more important than the lantern,
The poem more important than the notebook,
And the kiss more important than the lips.
My letters to you
Are greater and more important than both of us.
They are the only documents
Where people will discover
Your beauty
And my madness.