JASMINE, ANOTHER SYRIA
Jasmine, Another Syria
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.
Kazem Khalil, Rivers of Colors
At the beginning there is the man with a jovial smile, eyes full of experience and a look that mocks life and the vagaries of fate. If Kazem takes refuge in good humor and laughter, it is to exhort elation to take over the distance, the war and the disorder of the world.
And then there is the undeniably talented artist who merges with the man to translate a thousand emotions on colorful canvases. There are faces, strangely familiar features, a cry, a state of astonishment, a joy … points that gather little by little like the moments that weave life. Suddenly the images appear, as bright as a sunbeam blazing a path between the clouds, silhouettes who cry out freedom to the face of the world and colors that call to live.
Although his art is considered expressionist, it remains for many atypical. From clay to coffee grounds to the vivacity of colors, the artist uses all materials and delegates to his hands, guided by his heart, the freedom to paint and create.
Kazem was still in Syria when his works, as much as his character, had caught Michel Archambault’s attention. In Paris, the latter is in a hurry to show Kazem’s work to Francis Bacon saying: “It’s something of your family”. After considering the work of the Syrian artist Bacon then replies: “But there is no family, there is him, and he alone, this creator who will defend himself, this man is going to make his own way”.
Bacon was right; Kazem made his own way and still pursues his own approach. The characters he paints are the reincarnation of the human soul in its entire splendor but also in its entire fragility. In his paintings, there are places without address inhabited by events that never stop reproducing and emotions that, through this liberating artistic expression, become eternal.
Nothing can stop Kazem Khalil’s rivers of colors, which seem to flow for millennia in the artist’s blood and which on the canvas disperse a sense of movement. They are living emotions that summarize the past and the present, not only of these of the artist but of our entire Orient of dreams and blood. His identity does not end with a unique culture but transcends all boundaries and sums up epochs with a profoundly universal expression.
“A peculiar state of delirium circulates in the space of the canvas, like a winged anticipation whose flight space attracts us and invites us to settle down, to get to the bottom of things. Seeing the space, the wings seduce us and encourage us to fly freely”, as expressed by the great poet Adonis about Kazem’s “Metamorphoses” series.
The poet sees in these works ships breaking the sea, which do not seek to dock but sail and wander in the middle of the waves, where freedom takes on a universal dimension. A “cloud fabric” emanates from this light at the edge of the paintings, as if to lift the spectator to the highest point where it is possible to observe the spirit and its torments.
In Kazem Khalil’s art, each emotion has a distinguished beauty that the artist excels at communicating to the viewer through the grace of colors, varied but yet united like raindrops. Water droplets that like a river sometimes serene and sometimes agitated, splash the space of our souls in the way of these differences that form our humanity.
Text by Khaled Youssef
English translation by Danii Kessjan
World Leaders As Refugees
A Syrian Artist Is Painting World Leaders As Refugees For An Important Reason
“Those leaders who are partly responsible for the displacement of Syrians, maybe they will feel what it is to be vulnerable.”
Abdalla Al Omari, a Syrian painter, filmmaker, and performance artist, is painting world leaders as refugees in an effort to humanize the ongoing refugee crisis in his home country while also casting powerful leaders in a vulnerable light.
The Vulnerability Series, which was on display at Ayyam Gallery Dubai in 2017, includes paintings of world leaders such as President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is shown looking tired and dejected as he begs for money on the street.
Al Omari, who left Syria after the start of the Syrian war in 2011, was granted asylum in Belgium. He currently lives in Brussels, and began work on The Vulnerability Series about three and a half years ago.
He sees the paintings as a twist on more traditional propaganda art, explaining he wanted “to show a totally alternative side of the popular leaders” and “bring them very far from how classic propaganda would imagine them.”
“So I see them poor, I see them vulnerable,” he continues. “This actually shares the very same definition of propaganda, which is presenting selective facts to encourage a particular narrative, which might not be true.”
The original impetus to create The Vulnerability Series came from frustration Al Omari felt as a refugee, but it soon morphed into something deeper and even more profound. “As an artist I’ve always been intrigued by the romantic idea of vulnerability and the impact it can generate,” he says. “While depicting my subjects and developing the series, I eventually arrived to the paradoxical nature of empathy, and somehow my aim shifted from an expression of anger I had, that I thought was the trigger, to a more vivid desire to disarm my figures and to picture them outside of their positions of power.”
As we can see from Al Omari’s paintings, the figures depicted are anything but powerful. In one image, for example, President Trump is shown with a child in his arms as he carries all of his belongings, including a family photograph, in his hands and on his back.
“I wanted to take away their power, not to serve me and my pain, but to give them back their humanity and to give the audience an insight into what the power of vulnerability can achieve,” Al Omari explains of casting these powerful figures in a different light. “It was basically a personal desire at the beginning to imagine how would those supposedly great personalities look like if they were in the shoes of refugees.”
Though each world leader is traditionally seen as powerful in his or her own right, Omari wanted to turn that notion on its head. “I wanted to see them as a disarmed mass, not as a strong individual as we see them,” he says. “I wanted to discover how much greatness or divinity they would still demonstrate, or if they would at all have any greatness left.”
And even though The Vulnerability Series includes a few paintings with multiple figures — including one depicting former President Barack Obama, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others waiting in a refugee line — crafting paintings with solitary people was of particular importance to Al Omari because of the “lack of personalizing” refugee stories in the media.
“If you would tell the story individually, you would connect to those people on a personal, basic level,” he explains.
As for the choice of world leaders? “I found myself obliged emotionally and consciously to get involved and to deliver a message to those leaders,” Al Omari says. “Those leaders who are partly responsible for the displacement of Syrians and anyone else around the world, maybe they will feel what it is to be vulnerable when they see it in the mirror, when they see it in themselves.”
Editing: Danii Kessjan
◊ Abdalla Al Omari, Syrian painter and film maker, born 1986 in Damascus, Syria ◊
Launching his career in Damascus shortly after the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Abdalla Al Omari’s recent paintings describe the experiences of civilians, particularly children, who are caught in the crossfires of war.
Al Omari graduated from the University of Damascus with a degree in English Literature while also attending the Adham Ismail Institute for Visual Arts. Later, he worked with pioneering Syrian artists Ghassan Sibai and Fouad Dahdouh.