JASMINE, ANOTHER SYRIA

Edition 1 – Jan/Feb/March 2017

Jasmine, Another Syria
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.

Jasmine, Another Syria 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.

Jasmine, Another Syria 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.


The Revolution of Roses: Female Syrian Artists

Text by khaled Youssef
Editing by Danii Kessjan

To understand the evolution of female Syrian artists, it is important to start with the role of Syrian women in the Syrian society during the history.

Women in Syria were always and still remain a synonym and a symbol for homeland, generosity, power and tenderness.

Let us start with the name “Syria / Souria”. In Arabic language ‒ alike in English language and literature ‒ the name for a country or a nation has a gender connotation with the use of an animate pronoun. So the use of a feminine gender for a country enlightens her spirit, soul and anima. It is probably because of the nourishing qualities attributed to a nation, just as we do with alma mater versus fatherland. The noun Syria is both feminine in Arabic and Aramaic. And the word “woman”, which is “Imraa” in Arabic, comes from the word “maraa” in Aramaic meaning the mistress or the saint. Till now, in modern standard Syrian Arabic we say “marti” to say “my wife”, which comes from the same origin and means “my lady” or “my mistress”. Arabic is an evolution of Aramaic language dominant in the area of the Levant (close Middle East) between 1500 BC and the 7th century.

In Arabic the word “language” is feminine, but also “freedom”, “revolution”, “nation”, “star”. In our language the “sun” is feminine too, whilst the “moon” is masculine, perhaps because the moon takes its light from the sun, as a Man needs the light of a Woman to be a genuine human being.

In Ancient Syria, mother goddesses were the most important deities implored by people to get all beautiful things in life: love, fertility, happiness, beauty. The most important female deities during many centuries are very well known: Venus and Aphrodite, the goddesses of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Yet actually it appears that we know better these hybride goddesses than the prime original ones.

If we came back 4000 BC in Syria and Iraq, Mesopotamia was one of the first civilizations in the world with real governmental and social structures. The Mesopotamians believed that they were co-workers of the gods and that the land was infused with spirits and demons. Women in Mesopotamia enjoyed equal rights and could own land, file for divorce, own their own businesses, and make contracts in trade. The early brewers of beer and wine, as well as the healers in a community, were initially women. Thus we can see the apparition of the goddess “Inanna” who was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, procreation as well as of war, who later became identified with the Akkadian goddess “Ishtar” and further with the Phoenician “Astarte”, the Greek “Aphrodite”, and the Roman “Venus”, among others. She was also seen as the “Bright Star of the morning and evening”.

The Godess Ishtar

Inanna (or Ishtar) was the Mother Goddess of wisdom too, bringing culture and knowledge to cities where she was venerated. She was also called “The Queen of Heaven and Earth”. The myth says that Ishtar was in love with the god Tammuz who was taken by the God of Death to the underworld. Ishtar decided to bring Tammuz back to the earth; she crossed the “seven gates” under losing all her powers and jewels and brought him back to the earth. Since that time the earth became fertile and the spring appeared in April (“Tammouz” in Aramaic and Arabic). Historians say that it was around April 11th that ancient Syrians used to celebrate the “Day of Love”, ancestor of the “Valentine’s Day” of the Western world.

Later in times another Syrian woman was closed to become the Mistress of the World: Zenobia, Queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria who led a famous revolt against the Roman Empire. Zenobia was born around 240 BC and raised in Palmyra, a gorgeous city and trade centre on the Silk Road. Classical and Arabic sources describe Zenobia as beautiful and intelligent, with a dark complexion, pearly white teeth, and bright black eyes. Well-educated and fluent in Greek, Aramaic, and Egyptian, with good Latin proficiency, she is supposed to have hosted literary salons and have surrounded herself with intellectuals, philosophers, poets and artists. Zenobia defied Rome to own more than just plain independence: she controlled Egypt, and claimed herself the Mistress of the East. Unfortunately Emperor Aurelian decided to fight her and won. Yet Palmyra remained in the history as one of the most magnificent cities of the world, and her queen is considered a heroine and an example of how the world could look like if it were ruled by women.

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
Julia Domna 

Many Syrian women are also remembered for themselves or for their ancestors by ruling in Rome. The most famous Syrian woman is the great Julia Domna (170 AD – 217 AD), princess of Emesa (known today as Homs in Syria), empress and wife of Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus and mother of emperors Geta and Caracalla. Julia Domna was famous for her prodigious learning skills as well as her extraordinary political influence in Rome.

Nazek AlAbed

More recently, Lady Nazek Alabed (1887-1959) was the first Women’s Rights activist in Syria. She founded the “Women’s Club of Damascus”, and then the first women’s syndicate called “The Red Star”, as well as a feminist cultural magazine. She spent her life fighting against colonization and claiming for educational rights for the whole society. The continuity of her actions helped to create the “The Red Crescent” in Syria.

1918 saw the end of four centuries of Ottoman domination that was an extremely regressive and sexist religious and political era. Sharia law imposed a harsh segregation on women, systematically discriminating them and considering them as second class human beings and citizens, and thus annihilating all possibility of an earlier uprising of Syrian women.

The first independence of Syria after the end of the Ottoman era lasted two years before the beginning of the French Protectorate.  

The creation of the Red Crescent in Syria
Miss Syria 1953

Despite all inconveniences of the French colonization, the contact and exchange between the French and the Syrian society were highly interesting for Syrian women, in comparison with the discrimination and segregation they were sanctioned with under the Ottoman Empire. If political freedom were difficult to obtain, cultural freedom was though a quotidian reality. French painters, poets and writers started to come to the Middle East, fascinated by the landscapes and archaeology, as well as by the traditions and lifestyle. Syrian students started to study in Europe, and large intellectual societies appeared in many cities in Syria. Women were encouraged or at least allowed to study, create, to be part of the present of Syria, and so they hoped for more independence in the future.

Women voting in 1948

Since the independence in 1946, women quickly found an important place in political and cultural life. Voting rights in elections were gained by Syrian women in 1948 and full women’s suffrage in 1953. Since that time Syrian women have become teachers, academics, ambassadors, political leaders, ministers or vice-president, in the government and in the opposition. 

“The Poem” by Nazir Nabaa
“The Poem” by Nazir Nabaa

During the history, in the different Syrian sub-cultures, a woman was a mother, a wife and a sister, but also symbolized the homeland, victory, power, love and culture. Early since 1950s, most of the Syrian artists represented the woman’s figure in their paintings: Louay Kayyali showed the reality of women’s conditions, while Nazir Nabaa painted the myths and the symbols around the Woman, and Naïm Ismail portrayed women as an equal part to men in society. The feminist revolution was launched by wonderful well-educated Syrian women, but started also with most of the male intellectual scene in Syria, such as the artists, writers, politicians and poets.

How not want to be free whilst reading Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998), the Syrian poet of the Women’s Revolution? He used to say: “Nothing can protect us from death, except women and writing about them”. During his whole life, Nizar never stopped fighting the sexist society and inciting women to reject bad traditions.

Poet Nizar Qabbani

“Revolt, I want you to revolt
Resist against history!
Gain the upper hand on the grand illusion,
Revolt against the East,
Which looks at you as a feast in the bed.
Don’t be afraid of anyone
As the sun is the graveyard of vultures.”

Qabbani saw in a woman’s body the summary of all beauties of the creation of the world, not only in an aesthetic way, but also as a metaphor for culture and knowledge.

“Take off your clothes.
For centuries, no miracle
Has touched the earth.
Take off your clothes,
I am mute, but your body knows
All languages...

Colette Khouri, Syrian writer

In such a climate, many Syrian women started to show their talents. Colette Khoury was a pioneer of Arab feminism and expressed her discontent about social constraints and the conditions of women. Khoury, daughter of a great politician, an art lover and a free soul dedicated her work to Women’s Rights and to Love. She said once “Since I always felt the need to express what was welling up inside me… the need to protest, the need to scream… and since I didn’t want to scream with a knife, I screamed with my fingers and became a writer.”  

In this period of exciting opening to modernity and art, after centuries of isolation, Syrian women showed to all Arabic women the way how to take off all kinds of chains and to express themselves through all kinds of human expressions ‒ Art being one of them.

Women were not only spectators, they were an integral part of the intellectual revolution and many of them carved an important place in the new artistic uprising. We can mention some examples of these forerunners who affirmed their talent on the same level than their male counterparts, and marked the beginning of a singular feminine artistic way, which was not always a smooth sailing.         

Iqbal Karesli

Iqbal Karesly (1925-1969): this self-taught Syrian artist had a beautiful artistic career, yet a short life. Karesly did not study art, she get married at the age of 15. She travelled from place to place in Syria first along with her father who was a teacher, and then along with her husband to settle for many years in Palmyra. In each step of her itinerary life, she painted landscapes, still lifes and portraits. Very busy with her family life, she decided to study art by correspondence in an art academy in Cairo, Egypt, during 2 years (1956-1958). Karesly was the very first woman who had a solo exhibition in Syria, at “International Modern Art Gallery”, the first art gallery founded in Damascus. She died in 1969 in Damascus because of chronic lead poisoning ‒ a high content of lead used to be a contingent of paint colors and pigments at that time. She had the courage to assume her passion under difficult circumstances and to go ahead despite social divergences toward Art.

Artwork by Iqbal Karesli
Artwork by Zouhaira Alrez

Zouhaira Alrez: born in Damascus in 1938, she graduated in Cairo, Egypt in 1963. Her paintings were the visual narratives about what she loved: nature, portraits and her city of Damascus. The woman’s figure is a frequent part of her compositions. For her, “a woman is like a tree; her roots are fixed in the earth and her branches are rising high into the sky like a prayer, her fruits and flowers spread perfumes and feed life with the beautiful and the essential.” She lived in Europe for many years where she often has been missing the light of her country. The uprooting she endured being far away from the homeland influenced her later paintings, where one can always distinguish some “éclats” of yellow symbolizing her nostalgia for the Middle Eastern Sun.

Leila Nseir and Nazir Nabaa
Leila Nseir and Nazir Nabaa

Leila Nseir: born in 1941 in Lattakia, she is an important personality of the contemporary Syrian art scene. Nseir was and still is connected to human beings and their suffering. Besides treating universal subjects like “women and war”, “racism”, or an international human theme like “Vietnam”, she paints and draws human beings and their spiritual crisis. She always has been preoccupied by the failures of society, and always been eager to create a constructive level of consciousness inside people’s mind. The portraits painted by Nseir have often a deep gaze focused onto the spectator or into the air, fixing both everything and nothing. Nseir’s lines are straight and crossed, alike thousands of emotions crossing the soul. She used a palette of colors with an attractive graduation of nuances as to guide the viewer to focus on some specific parts of her paintings.

Artwork by Leila Nseir

The transgressive nature of her self-portraits is manifold. It withdraws appearances ‒ which is achieved through a lack of warm hues ‒, implies the image of a departing body or a woman attempting to break free from a restrictive environment. Freedom for women has never been her first concern in her paintings, since it was something already completely normal for her, and this is the reason why she was determined, as an artist, to be connected to common or universal human themes. Nseir is still active in Syria nowadays and is encouraging all artistic movements and events despite the current war.      

Artwork by Asmaa Al Fayoumi
Artwork by Asmaa Al Fayoumi

Asma Fayoumi (born in1943): she is Syria’s first abstract and expressionist female painter. She never has been interested in showing details of clear silhouettes, but instead the connection between colors and spaces inside them which express emotions. She never painted any kind of “tender feminine compositions”, yet she used abstractions and psychological topographies to express her message about women’s rights. Asma Fayoumi occupies a more than respectable place in the contemporary Syrian art scene.

Artwork by Eleonora Al Chatti

Eleonora Al Chatti (1913-2006): it is indispensable to remember this great artist. Eleonora was an American citizen who felt in love with a Syrian doctor and got married with him before moving to Syria and becoming involved in the new modern art movement with her oil paintings. Fascinated by the Middle East and its lifestyle, her art is an expression of the quotidian life in a country that she made hers through her love story.

Other talented Syrian women could affirm their artistic styles and become part of the modern artistic movement of the 1960s. We could name Hind Zelfe (1942) and her dreamy silhouettes, Lamis Dawashwali (1935) who valorized the beauty of Syrian women in her oil paintings, Loujainah Alassil (1946) who is the mother of illustrations for children, and the expressionist painter Hala Mahaini (1946).  

Artwork by Lamis Dashwali
Artwork by Lamis Dashwali

These first generations of Syrian female artists prepared a new creative way for other women in Syria; they used to be a real source of motivation in the heart of a huge feminine expression in the Syrian society.

Unfortunately, during the 1980s the Syrian society started to become less open and turned back to religious considerations and old traditions inherited from the Ottoman occupation. The confrontation between the religious political ideologies and the secularism of the socialist authoritarian government in Syria, which was translated by violence, assassinations and bombings, accentuated the rift between secular and religious societal components, and thus inhibited the progression of art in general and more particularly of women’s expression.                                                   

In this peculiar climate, the posing of naked women as models stopped abruptly in the faculties of fine arts all over Syria around 1985, but Syrian artists continued to paint naked models in private sessions or from their personal experiences. The official reason given by the faculties was that it had become “too expensive to pay for a model”, but in reality the mentality in society was changing to become more hermetical and more religious. Especially after the bloody conflict between the government and the “Muslim Brotherhood”, it was difficult to defy even more the traditional parts of society. There is this story of the great artist Fateh Al Moudaress who asked his students to draw a giraffe. He was very surprised to see that all students drew a headless giraffe, and then he learned that it was because of the “religion teacher” who told students that drawing a whole giraffe was defying God!

Sculpture by Mustafa Ali
Sculpture by Mustafa Ali

“It’s not about the religion, it’s about clerics” said the sculptor Mustafa Ali, “God knows that art is the cult of beauty and he knows your intentions when you draw or sculpt a naked man or woman.”

Many of the artists had to change the vision they had of a naked body and more specifically of a naked woman, in order to satisfy the Arabic market, particularly the extremely conservative Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which, by the way, have discovered Art only very recently.

After a flourishing period between the 1960s and 1970s, female artists in Syria, like in many other Arabic countries, had to face new political deceptions and limitations of expression. Syrian women in general insisted on their rights and could still remain involved in social and political actions, yet new social rules put in place by the regime -in the framework of red lines and a bad economy- started to increasingly limit and recondition freedom of expression for women, in imposing on them again a closed vision and narrowed space. Yet Syrian women are not submissive; despite of all, many new names could affirm their artistic identity and even go further by testing new domains like sculpture and pottery.

Women who resisted repression and confirmed their places in society were also teachers in schools and faculties who had administrative responsibilities related to the artistic fields, some of them even were able to found some artistic centers to developp their skills.

Owing to an economic awakening and an artistic blooming that took place in the 2000s, the talent of these generations of female artists from the 80s and 90s could eventually be fully recognized. Following the organization of cultural events both in national and foreign art centers and galleries, Syrian artists started a new evolution where some talented women could gain first rank artistic recognition.

Artwork by Rima Salamoun

Rima Salamoun (born in 1963) is one of the distinguished Syrian female artists who started her career during those ambitious years of the 1980s and 1990s to light up after 2000 with a particular style. Her paintings show expressive faces and bashful naked bodies and point out the human consciousness in all different states of mind. The details of faces disappear as if life experience would delete a part of the lineaments. Salamoun’s art is universal and imposes a reflection about loss, absence and death.

Artwork by Nawar Nasser
Artwork by Nawar Nasser

Like springtime, life is sometimes short. Nawar Nasser (1963-2008) could not continue to create; she had to fight against disease before passing away. Yet her brighten paintings full of light, like a call for another life, remain in the memory of the Syrian art, and in the heart if her partner, the great artist Safwan Dahoul, who consecrated recently an exhibition to her tribute.

Artwork by Khouloud Sibaï

Born in 1959 artist Khouloud Sibaï (Louay Kayyali’s niece) reinvented arabesques in her compositions, which are full of nostalgia for her two beloved cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Her paintings resume distance and time as she had to live far away from the motherland, and keep an eye full of innocence on the colors and details from her country. It is rare to recognize in the visual echoes of a painting the deep hidden screams and the sorrows of an artist.  

Souad Mardam Bey is the Middle Eastern artist by excellence. She was born in Damascus, raised in Beirut and is currently living in Cairo. Mardam Bay seeks harmony in her paintings, but never tries to impose a vision or an emotion to the viewer. Often in an Oriental atmosphere and a reviewed traditional decor, gazes of her portraits whisper emotions reflecting not only of the artist’s but of the viewer’s momentous state of mind. In her exhibition “Playing Without Toys”, the artist sheds her tenderness on the theme of childhood, particularly on Syrian children: eyes wide open, her personages are hurt, but she preferred to give them a note of hope with colorful clothes. In the context of war, we must not forget how beautiful childhood is and how much it needs to be protected to maintain hope for next generations.

(1) Artwork by Souad Mardam Bey - (2) Artwork by Sara Shamma
(1) Artwork by Souad Mardam Bey   –   (2) Artwork by Sara Shamma

Sara Shamma who was born in Damascus in 1975, is one of the most renowned and talented female artists of her generation. She decided to devote her time to art as early as the age of 14. In 2012 she was constrained to leave Damascus and to move to Beirut, Lebanon, after a car bomb exploded nearby her family. Before that time, she was implicated in art education and art activities in Syria. Sara Shamma’s art is singular. She draws movements of emotions and intensifies expressions by distortions, often through portrayals mostly of herself or her children, yet focusing also on the human figure in general as her preferred subject matter. Except her multiple self-portraits, Sara paints only fictional characters, nevertheless their emotions, circumstances and characteristics of life belong to reality. When she talks about death in her paintings it is because that it gives meaning to life. In one of her paintings, she is caressing a human skull, as if mothering those who have died in the war. Sara’s opinion about the place of a woman in society: “If a woman does not have confidence in herself, it is easy for society to deny her, but if she has real confidence, she will be among the best.” 

Aicha Ajam Mouhanna
Aicha Ajam Mouhanna

If art is also emotional cleverness, such is the emotive unconscious hidden behind Aicha Ajam Mouhanna’s naïve art. A Syrian woman hailing from Aleppo, mother of several artist sons, she was 85 years old when one of her sons discovered her talent. During her life, she used to create useful things in an attempt to fight poverty by recycling tissues and objects to make beautiful decorations. Mythology and history, like traditional stories from Syria and the Arabic world, were this respectful older lady’s sources of inspiration. She started with translating her memories on paper, and it took 85 years of her life for her talent to be recognized. Her artistic career lasted for 5 years and was full of creation and exhibitions in cultural centers. “Madame Picasso”, as called by newspapers, died in 2006 at the age of 90, leaving behind a beautiful artistic heritage, despite her material scarcity, to remain an example of how artistic energy can be born from the soul, and to prove that there is no age limit to be creative.                                  

Diana Hadid - Sculpture by Diana Hadid
Diana Hadid – Sculpture by Diana Hadid

Diana Al Hadid is an eloquent example: born in Aleppo in 1981, she left Syria with her family as she was 5 years old and was raised in the USA. At the age of 11 she already knew with certainty that she wanted to become an artist. She studied arts in Ohio and is now successfully established in Brooklyn (NYC). Using industrial materials, the Syrian-American artist creates sculptures and installations that look like unfinished works or constructions in progress. In a part of her oeuvre the Middle Eastern influence is evident, searching for the base of her constructions in her own roots and in the roots of humanity in her motherland. The double culture allows her to create a connection between different civilizations from the East to the West, and even from ancient constructions to futurist compositions.Syrian women who lived in the Diaspora before the current war created a generation of Syrian artists born in the country yet growing up partially in foreign countries. The encounter between two different cultures has certainly been an additive value to their creativity and their talent.      

Coming from different backgrounds and having different political opinions, the young generations of female Syrian artists remain though totally connected to their homeland, wherever they might live and create in the world.The newest generations born in Syria during the 1980s and 1990s brought a large selection of distinguished female artists. Being thoroughly connected to the Worldwide Web and accustomed to all the new technologies, the Syrian art scene became thus full of feminine touches. Graduated from the classical faculties of fine arts or other new institutes of fine and applied arts, Syrian women enrich the contemporary Syrian art with their paintings, sculptures, photographs, collages and digital art.

Artwork by Reem Yassouf

Reem Yassouf’s oeuvre is concentrated on the children of Syria as a universal theme. Documenting the present time period, the artist’s paintings are characterized by leakages of colors to express children’s suffering in this endless war with nuances of grey. If the artist feel that brighter colors would be a counter sense as to show the struggles for life and the consequences of war in children, Yassouf’s work insists on the right of children for hope and for a decent life by painting children as grey silhouettes trying to play with kites and observing the flight of birds.

Artwork by Sarab Alsafadi
Artwork by Sarab Alsafadi

Sarab Alsafadi’s compositions often enlighten women’s quotidian life. In a subtle way and mate colors, she represents, in her surrealistic silhouettes with few details of faces, all women in Arabic countries with their troubles and worries. The atmosphere that is globally grey is often relieved by spots of vivid colors, thus bringing a note of hope.                                     

Yara Said
Refugee Olympic Team’s flag by Yara Said

After having experimented migration to Europe through the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea on a migration boat, Yara Said who freshly graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, arrived recently to Amsterdam. In her art, this beautiful young woman uses acrylic paints, ink, charcoal, collage or other techniques to express her emotions. She works now with a Refugee Company in The Netherlands as a designer, coordinator and painter. Yara designed the flag for the Refugee Olympic Team who participated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Reminiscent of a life jacket worn by migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the black and orange colors of the flag are meant to be a symbol of solidarity and hope.

Tania Al Kayyali

Tania Al Kayyali is a young multi-talented artist born in Damascus in 1985 where she graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts. Living in Berlin nowadays, she belongs to the new Syrian artistic Diaspora within Berlin’s art scene. Tania Kayyali is an atypical visual artist who is all at once a painter, illustrator, digital artist and graphic designer.

Artwork by Tania Al Kayyali

Her colorful psychedelic artworks featuring a multitude of self-portraits have nothing self-absorbed, but are rather the identification of deep emotions and various facets of a personality that is eager to be part of the world and the humanity. She worked also as a translator with the “Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe” organization. Believing in the capacity of education to change our future, Tania created many illustrations and ooks for children.

Artwork by Ala Hmedy

It is not rare to find Arabic and Syrian female photographers, but few are those who explore the conceptual side of photography as an art offering many possibilities. Ala Hmedy is one of these photographers who is searching for her “other self“, and fighting her perturbations by exploring them and featuring them in kind of psychotic stages, where her face and body become a part of the whole scene and introduce emotion. If her performance and self-exposure remind us of some of Francesca Woodman’s photographs, Ala’s art remains distinguished and full of promises of a brilliant artistic future for this artist who would like to be able to contribute positively and critically in the post-war debate of the country, in the rebuilding of efforts in public issues, and in helping building a critical democratic society for which artistic creation and production are essential.”     

Julie Nakazi

Julie Nakazi still lives in Damascus, Syria. Besides being a graphic designer, she is also a painter and a digital artist. Her work critically examines the dominance of social media in life and the increasing narcissism of human beings. She addresses only rarely the subject of war, because she lives it on a daily basis, and also perhaps as a kind of self protection or a way to say that inside the country, people are not only thinking about death and bombs, but still are connected, as much as possible, to the world.    

Artwork by Noor Bahjat Almasri

Noor Bahjat Almasri may be one of the most singular female talents of her generation. The painter, who had to leave her beloved city of Damascus to establish in Dubai, chose “woman and family” as her favorite themes. She denounces all kind of chains imposed on women and defends, as a liberated young woman, total freedom of expression and free will for women to choose their own directions, regardless the kind of society. In her last exhibition “Which One Is Your Thread”, Noor centers on a very contemporary societal notion that stipulates that although we are every time and everywhere all virtually connected, we never have been more isolated.                                   

The women’s portraits painted by Aula Al Ayoubi are enigmatic, glamorous and theatrical. With natural ease, Al Ayoubi captures iconic women from the Middle East on her canvas with an outstanding sense of balance and harmony between firm lines and colors.

Artwork by Aula Al Ayoubi
Artwork by Shaza Askar
Artwork by Shaza Askar

Shaza Askar transfers her human experience into her paintings to share the intimacy of emotions and feelings through simple lines and expressive faces.

The young Huda Takriti questions the influence of media on our perception of reality, whilst Maryam Samaan’s illustrations are the mirror of her emotions thrown onto paper in a form of concentric circles inspired from her daily life.

(1) Eman Nawaya – (2) Nagham Hodaifa

Nagham Hodaifa paints the movements of her colorful expressions, in her paintings the faces are hidden or spoiled to recall the essence of the soul and its importance compared to the dominance of the cult of appearance.

Eman Nawaya who is now living in Beirut, Lebanon, continues to create silhouettes inspired from society and colourful conversations between bodies and souls. Nawaya treats the original essence, the human creature, and the complex relationship between men and women in Middle Eastern and Arabic societies.

Many initiatives have been undertaken by Syrian women to use art and culture against death and destruction. Aware that no one can fight death, they took the opportunity to go ahead not settling for plain survival but for full life, attempting to render it even more beautiful and colorful. Amira Malek, for example, initiated the project “Walls of Peace”: in many cities professors of art from the faculties of fine arts go on the streets together with their students to paint the city walls with bright colors.

Walls of Peace”, an initiative by Amira Malek

What is surprising to notice in the Syrian art’s experience is how women could invent a distinguished artistic identity beyond limits and obstacles, even recently despite of the war inside the country and the forced Diaspora. If women found their right places among renowned and professional Syrian and Arabic artists, their art remains singular while surpassing all social and traditional barriers. They expanded their creations out of classical methods to abstract art, digital art and conceptual art without negotiating the sense of aesthetics and treating, not only national or regional, but also universal themes.

In Syria we believe that each morning is born by the caress of a woman. In this part of the earth where human civilization started, and despite the current war and regressive ideologies, a woman remains superior by the power of her emotions and her divine presence in a man’s mundane life. In this region that saw the birth of religions and gods, a woman’s hair moving in the wind settles man’s destiny, her steps stir mountains to build cities and history, and in the fold of her dress the history of the Levant is written.

In art Syrian women are the voice of wisdom and hope. Like the Roses of Damascus which spread an incomparable perfume, they are spreading a message of peace and a reflection about the necessity to start deeper reforms by a revolution against sexism, sectarianism and mediocrity in order to build a society based on real human values: The Revolution of Roses. Inside and outside the country, they are shining with their creations, defying death and exile with the power of their lines, while drawing tracks full of dreams of tomorrow with the complicity of colors.

 


Letter to the Armed Man

By Nizar Kabbani, Syrian Poet (1923-1998)
Text written during the Lebanese Civil War in May 1978
Selection and translation from Arabic into French: Khaled Youssef
English translation: Danii Kessjan

Samer Tarabichi – Syrian Artist

Dear armed man,

Don’t be surprised if I address you with the word “dear”! I can not hate you, since hatred isn’t my belief.

You may have killed me, or killed one of my children. You may have extinguished the sun, the moon and the life…

But I, despite this great sadness that fills my days, and in spite of this fear that’s now part of my life, can not hate you …

Hatred isn’t my belief.

Dear armed man,

I’m sending you this letter of thanks and farewell, for it’s time for you to take leave, and it’s time for us to recover our lost lives.

I know neither your real name nor your provenience,
Yet suddenly you forgot that we were brothers;
From your memory, you’ve effaced fraternity;
Between you and me, you put a rifle, and you learned to speak with me with a new language: that of violence!

This language is the only one in the world that knows neither rules nor roots or alphabet! No need for a school to learn it, searching for it in books is a vain thing! It exists only in the files of the arms dealers!

I don’t intend to judge you, but a question burns my lips:
Are you happy ? Are you satisfied with what you have done?
Has the destruction of my house helped you to build yours?
Did my death prolong your life?

If my death brought you happiness, then I’m ready to die again!
If the hunger of my children has allowed yours to be satisfied, then the distribution was right!

However, a quick calculation allows me to perceive that your loss is proportional to mine and your death comparable to mine.

You thought you’d kill me with your weapons, erase me, and annihilate me! You wanted to change the property deeds of this land that was mine, in order to affix your name to it…

But what are you going to do with this vast and beautiful land if you are… ALONE?
What are you going to do with the sea, the snow, the rain, the fields of cherry trees and the vineyards, if you are… ALONE?

How are you going to survive in a country where the only thing you hear is the echo of your own voice, and the only thing you see is the reflection of your own image in the waters of its wells?

Don’t you think there’s enough water, light, and bread in this world for you and for me?

Any ideal country of which you dream will be artificial, false, without taste or color, if you don’t share it with me…

Your place at our table is still empty, so leave your gun outside, come in and sit with us,

We have plenty of bread, plenty of love, and some new poems that I’ll share with you when I’ll see you again.

نزار قباني في “رسالة إلى مسلح”:

Samer Tarabichi – Syrian Artist

عزيزي المسلح: لاتستغرب أن أناديك: ياعزيزي.. فأنا لا أستطيع أن أكره، إن الكراهية ليست مهنتي..

ربما تكون قد قتلتني.. أو قتلت طفلاً من أطفالي.. أو تكون قد أطفأت الشمس والقمر والحياة..

ولكنني رغم هذا الحزن الكبير الذي يملأ أيامي.. ورغم هذا الرعب الذي صار جزءاً من حياتي اليومية.. فإنني لا أستطيع أن أكرهك، فالكراهية ليست مهنتي.

عزيزي المسلح: أبعث إليك بهذه الرسالة شاكراً.. مودعاً.. فقد جاء الوقت الذي يحق لك فيه أن تأخذ إجازة.. ويحق لنا فيه أن نسترد أعمارنا الضائعة..

إنني لاأعرف اسمك الحقيقي.. ولاعنوانك الحقيقي.. فجأة نسيت الخبز والملح والعشرة الطيبة، وطويت بساط المودة، ووضعت البارودة بيني وبينك، وبدأت تكلمني بلغة أخرى هي لغة العنف.

لغة العنف هي اللغة الوحيدة في العالم التي ليس لها قواعد ولا أصول.. ولا أبجدية.. ولا يضطر المرء كي يتعلمها للذهاب الى المدرسة.. ثم هي لغة غير موجودة في الكتب والقواميس، وإنما هي موجودة فقط في ملفات تجار السلاح.

ليس في نيتي أن أناقشك.. أو أحاسبك، ولكنني اكتفي بسؤالك: هل أنت سعيد بما فعلته..؟!

هل ساعدك هدم بيتي على تعمير بيتك..؟!

وهل أدى موتي إلى إطالة حياتك..؟!

إذا كان موتي قد حقق لك ربحاًَ، فأنا مستعد أن أموت مرة ثانية.. وثالثة.. ورابعة.. وعاشرة حتى تصير حياتك أطول وأجمل..

وإذا كان جوع أطفالي قد أدى شبع أطفالك، فإنني أعتبر التعويض عادلاً.. ولكن جردة سريعة لحساب هذه الحرب تثبت أن خسارتك تعادل خسارتي، وموتك بحجم موتي.. وبدلاً من أن يزداد عدد أولادي، وعدد أولادك ويكبر الوطن..

كنت تظن أنك بالسلاح تلغيني.. وتسجل هذا الوطن في الدوائر العقارية باسمك وحدك.. ولكن.. ماذا تفعل بكل هذا الوطن الجميل وحدك؟! تخزنه ؟ تقدده..؟ تنقعه وتشرب ماءه..؟!

ماذا تفعل بالبحر، والثلج والمطر، والحبق وبساتين اللوز والتفاح وعرائش العنب؟!

ألا تعتقد أنك ستفجر وحدك في وطن لاتسمع فيه إلا صوتك، ولاترى في ماء ينابيعه إلا وجهك..؟

ألا تعتقد أن سمك البحر، وغلة البيدر، وخبز التنور وضوء الشمس، وعيون النساء، تكفيك وتكفيني.. إن أي وطن تحلم به، سيكون وطناً كيميائياً، اذا لم أسكن فيه.

إن كرسيك على المائدة لا يزال خالياً، فاترك بارودتك خارج الغرفة، واجلس معنا… فلدينا خبز كثير.. وحب كثير.. وقصائد جديدة سأنشدها لك عندما نلتقي.