JASMINE, ANOTHER SYRIA

Edition 3 – July/Aug/Sept 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.

 


Art Under the Subversion of Power

Written by Khaled Youssef, Co-founder of SYRIA.ART
Translated from French into English by Danii Kessan

In all we do in different artistic fields, we always try to remind people of their humanity, their equality and the need to maintain a connection between people, and remind them of the fragility of our work and our lives. It is for us ‒even if it is in itself a power, though limited and fragile‒ the opposite of what “the Power” means. What power can influence people today? Money and the media ‒knowing that religion and politics are their direct derivatives since they come from the same mold‒ are the real power that dominates social culture, imposes its rules and ultimately instrumentalizes the arts. The privatization of art testifies to this domination and this can never correspond to the idea of ​​tolerance or freedom. Freedom! What a relative notion! Who is free? And free of what? Does a true artist need to be free? Clearly, freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition of almost all other forms of freedom. In all cases, freedom can only begin with social disalienation, the liberation of all kinds of enslavements, religious practices, obsolete traditions, illogical thinking patterns, and, above all, independence from material considerations.

Work by Syrian artist Bassam Alemam

We had the chance to experience two different cultures and visions about Art. The Syrian art used to be ignored by most of the people in Syria and in the world, yet when economy improved itself in 2000, a lot of emerging artists started to build an artistic atmosphere in the larger Syrian cities, they were no more marginalized, less dependent of official organizations and could express their visions. Of course they used to have a limited space of expression as far as political issues were concerned, but they have been the precursors through whom an intellectual revolution has been made possible, while often refusing religious practices or fighting against the aberration of some traditions. They could do it because they were allowed to do it.

In other countries in the Middle East, religion is the first true dictator, and what the leaders of oil-producing countries are trying to do is simply “buy culture and the arts” from elsewhere with their petrodollars. Even if we can see some works of art by Damien Hertz or Abdel Samad in the streets of their cities, we realize from the outset that religion imposes on the arts its own powerful rules: for example, the genitals of a baby in a sculpture must be covered, a painting of a female figure or a sculpture whose characteristics are too realistic must be squeezed out. Here we can see the depths of real subversion of power: money that decides to buy art and religion that dictates to mutilate or forbid a work of art! The problem in most Arab countries is that there is an enormous lack of distance and differentiation from religion, an inability to criticize its so-called sacrosanct foundations, to reform them and to adapt them to the requirements of our time.

Work by Syrian artist Bassam Alemam

In the Western world, things are different, but not much; Artists have the freedom to create, but they will not be relayed or helped in their art, if the latter had to go beyond or against the mainstream ideas. Ultraliberalism and political correctness have become a new type of dictatorship for ideologies allowing freedom within a given framework, and any other type of art that exists, unfortunately, never or rarely will take a popular place in society. We can even mention great artists and writers who have been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize but have never received it and will never receive it, for they do not express exactly what the “Deep Power” or the “Pensée Unique” wants.

There is no better example of the politicization of art than what has happened in Syria over the last six years. If art is a means of expressing emotions, it quickly became a political game. From the beginning of the conflict until today Syrian artists have been divided, inside and outside Syria, between, with, against, on the right side, on the left side and in the middle, in and on different ways and levels.

Work by Syrian artist Bassam Alemam

Although not all artists express their own political opinions through their art, many of their activities were still or are always conditioned by their political positions. As far as the financing or organizing of exhibitions is concerned, even exhibitions organized by private art galleries, everything seemed to take on a political color. As this happened, everything turned out to be increasingly politicized. We have even seen many “new born artists” surfing the war and subsisting on a mediocre production that was ultra-oriented towards one part of the conflict or the other. Since the beginning of 2011 and until now, we are used to reading and hearing many very aggressive comments and opinions against certain Syrian artists or poets, not about their artistic production, but against their personal political views or even their neutral positions on the Syrian conflict.

For all these reasons and according to our experience of Syrian art in recent years, we believe that Art must always remain independent of any kind of political commitment. This does not mean that an artist can not express his emotions or opinions through his work, or that he can not speak of his personal experience: Art must be superior to politics and must transcend it, and the power of Art must be stronger than “the Power” that controls our societies. Art must be a connection, a noble way of expression and exchange, a way in which people can meet and accept one another. We need Art in this form now more than ever, for this may be our last chance to prove our humanity and unite us.

 


A vernissage in Latakia

On the Syrian side, in the building of the sculptor Nizar Ali Badr, the young men sent to the front fall “like flowers”, the girls remain cloistered and the mothers are “fed up”. He exposes faces of stone in Bashar al-Assad’s stronghold.

Written by Adeline Chenon Ramlat
Translated from French into English by Danii Kessjan

Nizar Ali Badr enters the kitchen like a bomb. “Is there no electricity anymore?!” His fluorescent t-shirt is worn up to the weft, his hands and face are covered with stone dust. He’s tall, solid, with a white beard and, screwed on his head, a beret à la Che Guevara. Standing in front of the sink, his daughter Rouchda, 23, raises her impeccable eyebrows in a weary tone: “No, there’s no power anymore!”
But it’s been three hours! The battery of my phone is dead, that of my tablet too. There’s nothing anymore!”

Rouchda doesn’t breathe a word. Does she have any control over it, if here in Latakia, a large harbor on the Syrian coast, the restrictions of war impose to live at the rate of power cuts: three hours without, three hours with, three hours without…? Well normally, because in fact you never know if there will be some or not. Yesterday, eight hours without electricity! As a result the cisterns on the roof weren’t filled and there was no water during the whole day.

When her father came in, Rouchda filled bottles to store them in the fridge. Water, this is a real puzzle. Caution consists of storing it wherever you might need it. Half of the fridge is full of bottles to drink. There’s a bucket near the toilet, another in the shower, and a saucepan under the sink faucet. Just in case, because sometimes the water begins to flow. Besides of that, she’ll have to think about tackling the dishes that piles up.

Helpless, Nizar makes himself a coffee. Usually he asks for it to be served but he sees that his daughter is busy. He’s about to light the gas cooker with the lighter that doesn’t drag very far, but it doesn’t work. He looks for his own, the one he hides out as a chronic smoker and, not finding it, yells: “My God, what have I done to deserve this!? Enraged he throws the small coffee pot into the sink and glares at Rouchda. Impassive, her daughter pretends not to have seen anything: “Ah, you’d think about buying dishwasher, because now I’ll finish it.” Nizar bursts: “See that with your mother! Do I have the nerves to think about this now? About the dishwasher? With this bloody mess in the country? You’ll bring me a coffee up there later! That’s enough now. I go upstairs!”

He’s furious, he’s always furious. It won’t last but now he’s leaving, it’s too much. Rouchda sends me a quick smile behind her father’s back. The door of the apartment can be heard slamming violently. Nizar retired to his terrace. Her daughter shruggs her shoulders of relief, also of helplessness. She’d have so much to ask herself for her daily life to be less burdensome… But what good is it to talk to her father? He’s always been completely to the west, and since the war the household has done only one thing: suffocate under the problems.

“IT DRIVES ME CRAZY”

On the terrace on the fifth floor, Nizar watches from afar Russian aircrafts. Machinally he addresses it with a wave of his hand. In front of him, Latakia stretches along the coast: five hundred thousand inhabitants 350 kilometers north of Damascus and base for the Russian military. 80 kilometers farther north, the Turkish border barred by the Safoon Mountain. “Jabel Safoon” is his artist pseudonym, the one he chose a year ago to undersign his work.

His work is a world that jumps onto you. To reach it, you must reach the terrace of the building. Its access isn’t simple. First, you’ve to climb a flight of ramshackled stairs invaded by some twenty electric counters connected by rough cables. Not a step that’s not cracked. No light. Not a wall that’s not covered with graffiti, or smeared with forms for non-payment of water or electricity.

On the stairs, one is shoved by a myriad of children of all ages ascending, descending, returning, going out, and calling each other out of each apartment without really understanding who lives where. On reaching the fifth floor, one comes to a vague lock-chamber covered with sacks of plaster, stuff, widgets and various things of stone, perhaps piled up there by a delirious mason. One pushes a heavy iron door open and one feels a current of warm air. It’s the terrace.

On 400 square meters, about twenty enormous iron cisterns placed in a circle, a myriad of chimneys and a bunch of parabolic antennas. In the middle are some 1,500 sculptures elegantly scattered from right and left, all of stone, all finely worked in the smallest detail, and at least half of which represent faces of all sizes that are laughing, shouting, watching, sleeping, weeping, loving… There are sculptures of women with tangled bodies, enormous totems, mythological characters, some of them also Christic, and an entwined couple who loves each other tenderly under a stone screed…

Between his sculptures and the green plants, Nizar has set up a den. His refuge, his hermitage. Around the bench, the bed and the table, not a square inch of the walls and the floors which isn’t overloaded with artworks of wood, stone, earth, all colors, all sizes, all textures. All of them stunning.

Few people go there except neighbors who come regularly because of water problems or empty tanks. Very handy, Nizar never hesitates to help them out. “Thank you to your hands that give you work and give us water”, said a neighbor veiled in black as he transfers water to her tank that was obviously dry. Shortly afterwards comes a little boy who brings a plate of cakes in thanks: “Is it true, uncle, that you really did all that with your hands?
Yes, yes, really, I did. Have a look at it if you want … “, Nizar replies, laughing.

nizar-4

“SUCH A BAZAAR!”

In addition to the sculptures a good fifty square meters of the terrace is carpeted with frescoes. And this is where it starts to get complicated, because the word fresco doesn’t fit. Let’s say drawings, pebble-stones designs. How to speak with accuracy of these scenes constituted of adjusted pebble-stones that catch the glance but, especially, transmit emotions? Here, a group of travellers bowing their heads and carrying heavy packages. Their pain is palpable, invasive. There, a man astride another who is only submissive. “Look at the one above and the gesture of his arm! In addition to being worn, he decides the direction, from where they go. As for me, I’m a poor man who’s always suffered so when I see my country torn by the will of the powerful, it drives me crazy.”

"I want my stones to say the Syrian pain. I want these pebble-stones to shout aloud so the world understands what we endure."

Nizar’s gaze is lost towards the terrace. “I started doing sculpture at the age of 7 in the village, not far from here. We were farmers; I’ve thirteen brothers and sisters. I spent a lot of time outside and started with wood and clay. The sculptures you see here are what I’ve been doing for about forty years.”

For fifteen years, he thought of working with pebble-stones, but he didn’t have the time to do it. “I had to feed my children”. As a real estate agent, he rented houses to the Syrians who came on holiday to Latakia on the seashore. “When I realized that most of my work was done by telephone, I closed my office downtown and decided to work while sculpting on the terrace. War has arrived, and violence has flooded our lives.”

Nizar lives in a poor, outlying neighborhood bordered by a Palestinian refugee camp. “Another country”, the inner-city residents used to say. “There’ve been many attacks and insurrections at the beginning of the events, and such a bazaar! The presence of the army has become permanent. You saw it! We have two military checkpoints, it has calmed the riots. We are more reassured at least. “

Before, his “small incomes” allowed him to ensure the daily needs. But “after a year of war, insecurity has settled everywhere and we’ve felt impoverished.” The price for a kilo of sugar was multiplied by twenty. In this corner that never has had public transportation the price of a taxi ride has drastically increased. “Now we’re often stuck here”. His work has crumbled: “I had less and less rentals”. Still he “kept himself busy”. “In five years I guess I might have made twenty-five thousand frescoes with pebble-stones. I was doing that the whole day. I worked like a madman; I was isolating myself from everything. As soon as one scene pleased me, I destroyed it to make another one and another one. What did you want me to do anyway? Time passed by. I started taking them in pictures and putting them on Facebook when I could”.

Nizar stands up suddenly. Moving towards a pile of precise stones, he seized one and immediately another. He puts them meticulously on the floor. He leaves again and comes back with a small batch of stones tight against his belly, and begins to arrange them around the first two. He hesitates little.

In ten minutes I see a great drawing being born on the ground: a mother clasping her two terrorized children against her, a body stretches out near them. “I want my stones to say the Syrian pain. I want these pebble-stones to shout aloud so the world understands what we endure. As for me, I don’t see any pebble-stones: I see arms, suns, hips, boats, weapons, tears. A whole crowded world that’s waiting for me to lay it out properly to tell its story. These pebble-stones have a life experience, and they tell it me”.

“OUR COUNTRY IS TEN THOUSAND YEARS OLD AND YOU SEE, FENNEL IS ALWAYS THERE”

Nizar asks me if I know Ugarit, the four-thousand-years-old city from where comes the first alphabet of the world. Today, it’s called Ras ech-Chamra. It’s about ten kilometers from Latakia and we leave for it with his friend Saji, a handsome man in his sixties with a chic-look and an incredible white mane.

For thirty years, Saji was a journalist at Al-Thawra (“The Revolution”). He has also accumulated jobs as a translator, a tour guide and an English teacher, which has taught him “to distinguish blablers from serious people”. The laws of the system are “familiar” to him: “I know the game of hierarchies, securitarianism and administrative paperwork. Saji enjoyed the frescoes that Nizar posted on Facebook. “I couldn’t stop thinking about all these sculptures, they reminded me of Ugarit. I’m crazy about this place, it’s my passion in life. ”

He met the artist a year ago, via a director friend of his: “I landed at Nizar’s place. We talked about mythology, Ugarit and the god Baal. Then I realized that we didn’t feel neither Christian nor Muslim. This war that kills the Syrian people makes no sense to us. We felt the same pain: I seek refuge in the ruins, trying to understand all that our country has gone through, and he gives a voice to the stones”, he says while caressing large branches of fennel.

As he spoke, Saji stood up. He strides along the site of Ugarit, a vast expanse of dusty land covered with enormous blocks of white stone. The hermetic ruins come gradually to life. “You see this lane of seven stones under our feet, it shows the stages of man’s life: the mother’s womb, birth, the baby, the young man, the man, the old man and death”.

He’s inexhaustible, he feels transcended. Saji has no age anymore, no worry anymore. In Ugarit, he’s at home. For eternity: “Our country is ten thousand years old, and you see, the fennel is still there, the stones are still there, the messages are still there. Our strength comes from that. When I came back to Nizar’s home, I asked him what he meant to do with his sculptures. He told me he wanted to leave them to his children and that they were useless, just good enough to play with. I offered to take care of his work. I had to be able to show off all that. It wasn’t possible otherwise!”

Saji was right. A rain of proposals had crossed the fog of war to land in the bottom of the artist’s Facebook account. Sandro Kanchelli, an Italian director, wanted to make graphic animations with the pebble-stones frescoes. Margriet Ruurs, a Canadian children’s book author, proposed to write a book illustrated with pictures of his frescoes. After immense efforts, the book Stepping Stones was published in Canada. As the embargo on Syria blocked trade exchange flows, the editor sent a few copies by mail to Nizar, who in a few days exhibits for the first time at the National Museum of Latakia.

We are in the midst of the ruins of the god Baal’s temple. Nizar, who joined us, admires the hydraulic system: “How can a people who has been able to create the separation of clean water and wastewater, so long ago and on a city scale, now be able to go to war with one another? It’s incomprehensible! We are creators for millennia, not destructors!”

A HUGE AREA OF RELOCATION

A year ago, at the beginning of 2016, I had accompanied Nizar to look for pebble-stones at the foot of the Safoon Mountain in the bay of Ras al-Bassit, at the confine Turkish-Syrian borders coveted by the belligerents. In the overloaded microbus, the sculptor counted his empty bags in order to bring the maximum number of pebble-stones from the beach. The bay was beautiful, the water bluish. One could distinguish the Turkish coasts bathed in mist. Ripples of Kalashnikovs tore the air from the mountain without that disturbing Nizar.

Wandering along the seashore, he carefully selected the pebble-stones he gathered in heaps, while cannons thundered all roundabout within five kilometers. “Everything’s very secure on this side of the road”, he told me. A family with four children had just set up a makeshift camp facing the sea: “They invaded our village last night and we left our house. We went on foot across small paths”, explained the father of the family, with a pale, almost ghastly face.

During the discussion, Nizar began to draw with his pebble-stones placed on the sand small characters carrying parcels. The daughter of the family had approached. Turning to her father, she asked, “You think it’s us?” We left two hours later, the bags filled with pebble-stones. The family had stretched its canvases against the rock wall.

"We feel the same pain: I seek refuge in the ruins trying to understand all that our country has gone through, and Nizar gives a voice to the stones".

To get to Latakia, I took a taxi in Damascus this time. On the highway we drove past the crumbling buildings in the outskirts of Homs. The driver was talkative, also concerned: “We have so many displaced people that the population of Latakia has quadrupled in five years. New refugees arrive on a daily basis and from everywhere: Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Aleppo… These people who have lost everything come to the coast. At the beginning of the war, Tartus and Latakia had a large capacity of reception. Now the coast is a huge area of ​​relocation “.

In Latakia, the first displaced have rented holiday apartments at prices that have continued to decline. The next and the poorest ones settled along the roads, in makeshift camps or on derelict sites. Along with the human tide, the city discovered water rationing and power cuts. The schools have adapted to accommodate newcomers: now there are the morning children and the ones of the afternoon.

Already deprived before the war, Nizar’s neighborhood is more and more poorly maintained. Not a crossroad without piles of garbage. Not a piece of land that’s not covered in waste or rebuilt into a camp. The corner has become little safe. Even accompanied by their brother, his two daughters don’t go out in the evening. The neighborhood beach is just five minutes walk: Rouchda and Dilbrine haven’t walked there for months.

nizar-12

Two days before the exhibition of Nizar’s work at the National Museum, the Ministry of Culture calls up to warn that everything is staggered by at least fifteen days. The new bomb falls while we are in the restaurant: “They can’t do this to me! No, they can’t do this to me! “ Nizar yells. Two clients who quietly smoked their hookah while nibbling some thyme bread in front of the sea stare at him in dismay.

“What if we did the exhibition on the terrace of your building?” If we invited everyone up? says his friend Saji
But it’s my studio!
    What’s the problem?…”
The artist fulminates before abdicating in front of his friend’s tenacity. Together they write an invitation card inviting people in Nizar’s “modest home” since “the ministry refuses to host its exhibition in the museum”.

“I’M FED UP. FED UP WITH THE WAR, ART, EVERYTHING!”

Nizar’s wife, a brunette in her forties with feline eyes, never gets much out of the fourth floor apartment. When Samaher needs something, she uses what her daughters call laughing “the elevator”: she screams through the window to collar one of the young children who play in front of the building, sends him on an errand in the small grocery store at the end of the street, waits for the child to knock at the door with the foodstuff, and then gives him the money so he goes back down to pay the grocer. She never has worked because her husband didn’t want it: “Now I think he’d agree, but there’s no work anymore “.

The apartment is modest: a large living room and two bedrooms, one for the parents and the other one for the children Rouchda, 23, Ali, 21 and Dilbrine, 19, where their three beds are arranged tightly together. Samaher: “We were very happy before… It’s true that there’s this war that complicates everything, but as for me I suffer especially because with Nizar we are no longer hand in hand. With his art, he has all these contacts, he has become secretive and he no longer wants me to hear his telephone conversations. Sometimes there are young girls coming to us who want to attend sculpture lessons, and so he takes them alone with him on the terrace, you can’t really do that! With the war and the death of all those men, there’re too many girls to marry. Men often marry several women, strike them, deceive them, or give them no money. They do what they want, it’s very hard. I’m fed up. Fed up with the war, art, everything!”

Slowly, the children get up to join their mother, sitting smoking the hookah. The apple vapors surround us. We hear shots of Kalashnikov. “It’s nothing, it’s just that they bring home the body of a ‘chahid’”, Ali, the young man of the household, sighs. “It’s the usual practice: shots are fired so that everyone knows that a soldier has died on the front. I can’t handle it anymore! Now, it’s almost every day. The young men fall “like flowers”. In our building, at least half of the apartments have a ‘chahid’. You see the neighbor opposite who came in yesterday to make the salad with Mom? [He quickly sketches the outline of a veil around his face.] Well his son is a ‘chahid’, he was killed a year ago and he was 17 years old. My best friend on the floor below died too, we met his brother just before on the stairs.”

Ali gets up and fetches a small photo stuck in the edge of a frame. “Most of my friends are already dead or are on the front lines. I’m exempted because I’m wahid [only son] and my father doesn’t force me to go to the army.” Ali sometimes hesitates: the volunteers receive a small salary, and fighting for the homeland valorizes the relatives. He admires those who leave. He stopped studying. Now he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

Dilbrine, the youngest, takes the floor: “As for me, my future husband has joined the army but he put his salary in our future apartment.” Majid, her fiancé, is 26 years old. She hopes that he will get his job as a sports teacher again “as soon as all this is over because I’m always afraid for him, even if he only goes to the front three days a week.” She doesn’t really want to work: “I’d rather take care of my husband and our future children.” She was enrolled in the faculty in French “but, with the rise in prices, it was too expensive, then I stopped everything. I might resume after the war, we’ll see. Now I take care of the household here and I imagine how I’ll fix mine.” She leaves to dance in front of the mirror: “I seduced Majid by dancing exactly like that at my cousin’s wedding. It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

Rouchda, the eldest, is destined to become a teacher in primary school: “It’s not too hard, but I’ll earn practically no money.” She’s a member of the Tichrine University theater troupe, and I propose to accompany her this evening to the oldest theater in the city. Her mother is anxious. The exhibition of Nizar’s work on the terrace of their building is planned for the next day. She has no news. “There’s no electricity anymore. I don’t know how many people will come, or what we’ll eat. I’m alone with the children and Mister only thinks of his aaaaart! I’m heading for a breakdown!”

ON THE METAMORPHOSED TERRACE

This Friday is a day off and the streets in the inner city are totally bottled. The long cornice shines in front of the houses with red-tile-roofs and ogival windows. The bars, sometimes with giant screens, are full. The generators are purring. Passers-by enjoy the Wi-Fi. I feel as if I’ve regained the festive and frenetic atmosphere of Beirut.

In front of the National Theater, there’s already a crowd. Women above all and as many veils as crosses: the city is Alawite, Sunni and Christian. “Our cultural life has diminished a little at the beginning of events, but now it doesn’t stop. You can go out to the theater every week. Everything’s free because people don’t have money and, as everyone needs to express themselves, everyone gets by,” Karim, a friend of Rouchda, says.

The name of the play is ‘Psycho’. In a psychiatric hospital, seven patients obsessed with their past lives tell their story. Four boys and three girls of about twenty years of age declaim the sensitive text they’ve written. “It surely has something to do with what we’re going through right now,” Karim says ironically. “We die under the attacks of terrorists and, with the exception of a few countries, the whole world doesn’t seem to care a damn about it. My brother died on the front line, I think about him every single day.”

Back home, a battle-down combat has begun. Nizar’s brother, who came to help prepare the exhibition, cleans the terrace with plenty of water. Frightened by the sudden agitation that threatens his artworks, Nizar runs everywhere. A sculptor friend pops in with ten display racks for statues: how to distribute them between antennas and water tanks?

In the early morning, Samaher plagues: too much water has been used in the night before and there’s still no electricity. Nonchalantly Rouchda leafs through the Canadian author’s children book with pictures of her father’s artworks: “That book isn’t bad at all, a little empty perhaps, but beautiful”. Behind her shoulder, Samaher observes that “there isn’t enough text for a real book.” Neither of the two women ever saw a children’s album before.

A few hours before the exhibition, everything seems suspended. The fridge is empty. Ali doesn’t seem to want to get up. Dilbrine dances in the entrance hall singing: “There’s no bread, there’s no bread…”

"Two hundred people have already gone by. Alaa, an economics student, said she was much moved: "It touches me that the stones of our region can become art."

His father arrives from the terrace clumsily holding a bouquet of flowers in his hand: “You must put them in the water! It’s a gift”. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning.

Half an hour later, the terrace is miraculously transformed into a postmodern exhibition space. It already hosts about fifty people who watch, churn, and make selfies with frescoes and sculptures. First came the artist friends bluffed by Nizar’s nerve: “He clearly said his point of view to the authority by keeping his invitation on the said day,” “He breaks habits but doesn’t aggress, this is what we need.” An army officer circulates for a long time, observing everything with the greatest care, smiling at Nizar before leaving. “This is totally innovative, overwhelming,” says a journalist from the Al-Watan daily.

“WHAT A PLACE TO EXHIBIT STATUES OF NAKED WOMEN!”

A famous doctor from Latakia arrives: Doctor Fares made talk about him a few years ago by buying cash an MRI scanner for a million dollars. His driver is waiting downstairs, his wife is on his arm: “It’s amazing that Nizar dared to ask people to come here! For me this neighborhood is almost another country so extremely far out of town. It’s here that there’s the most poverty and the most Islamists. I can bet his neighbors are all rigorists among rigorists. What a place to exhibit statues of naked women!” The notable burst out laughing. “Honestly, this guy is awesome!”

In a corner of the terrace, a fire is tinkered. Above, a huge saucepan with two chickens and bulgur. At 5 pm it’s cooked. The bottles of Arak brought by the friends open the appetite. Two hundred people have already gone by, and more continue to arrive. Around a bulgur plate, Alaa, 21, an economics student, said she was much moved: “It touches me that the stones of our region can become art. This is the first time in my life that I visit an artist’s studio, I’m super happy to be there!” She is trembling a little, her friend discreetly takes her hand. The air is refreshed and the night falls. The shadows of the totems dance under the white gleams of the mobile phones.

Candles are lit. A fairly young man with blue eyes and a penetrating gaze introduces himself: Elias Jarjous, head of a cultural magazine. He comes from Safita, in the “Valley of the Christians”. He smiles, in tears. “I forgot the war! Here I’ve found my country as it was before this filth. It’s been so long a time that it never happened to me! Nizar has just made me the best gift, the best gift…”