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.
When chaos becomes coercion
To make art is not only to create a parallel world ̶ a fairer, more humane world ̶ but it is also a collective memory, perhaps it is even the finest history book that expresses the hopes, dreams, ambitions and ideals, but also the disappointment, sadness, injustice and perplexity of each epoch. Art is detached from what we think of it, and that is where it draws its strength. Its subjectivity gives it a free space because one in way or another, it will reach someone’s heart to provoke a reaction and awaken his emotions.
In times of war, when suffering defies imagination and destruction becomes the watchword, the quest for universal beauty and the drive for creation become more than ever a necessity and even a duty. Art is a witness to the chaos, but also a bearer of hope, which brings with it rainbow colors to places dominated by the grayness imposed by human ignorance.
“Every civilized man has two countries; his own and Syria,” says André Parrot, archaeologist and former curator of the Louvre Museum. Syria, the Pearl of the Levant, the Cradle of History and the Mother of Civilizations: a country little known in the modern era, but which, was exemplary for decades as to the diversity of its society and the creativity of its people –a people extremely proud and loving of their native soil and the Eastern sun. A country marked by the influx of migrants for centuries, whose doors were always left wide open to newcomers. Syria, land of exile, became a land for exiles; war teaches people to flee with their bodies while seeding the soil of their ancestors with their childhood dreams, while clinging to a moment of peace and serenity as if that was to last a lifetime.
When chaos becomes coercion, it is for human beings to create an alternative worthy of humanity in the noblest sense, to create a spark and bring a light that shines stronger than ever, contrasted by darkness. It becomes more imperative than ever to let writing, poetry and art speak out as weapons against the injustice of life and men.
The experience of the Syrian artists reflects that of their people; there has always been a artistic Diaspora that was more or less voluntary, in search of other horizons, other visions and other spaces, but there were also those artists who have stayed in the homeland to tell about their joy and sorrow, to denounce the flaws of society, or simply to highlight the surrounding beauty. For the Syrians, art has always been considered a vade mecum of emotions and a testimony to the epochs.
And then suddenly the unexpected occurred: a ruthless and endless war, transforming the passport into a document of survival, and the production of art into a luxury difficult to afford. Some artists have folded their tent and have gone ̶with feathers and colors instead of luggage, looking for a lost security, a future for their children and their arts ̶ towards the four corners of the Earth. Others stayed behind. They may have no sources of income anymore, their artist studios may be struggling to subsist under the threat of bombs and explosions, but their deep roots help them resist those obscure winds.
Like these Syrian artists who continue to build and create, our approach is anchored in this same desire to see beauty and enhance it. There is so much beauty to be discovered in Syria and in the heart of the Syrians themselves, so we wish to speak of this country through a lens other than that of war and death, because we have faith in the power of art as a spark that radiates in the midst of darkness, jasmine that is strong enough to bloom again amid the ruins.
Text: Khaled Youssef
Trnaslation & editing: Danii Kessjan
Nizar Ali Badr and the Language of Stones
On the Mediterranean coast about 60 kilometers from the city of Latakia in Syria, locals and visitors alike have been accustomed for decades to see a white-bearded man walking between the mountain and the shore. On his back, he always carries a bag of peeble-stones and stops from time to time to sort them out, like a gold-seeker sorting his nuggets. This man is the sculptor Nizar Ali Badr, a gypsy in a world full of disorder, a dreamer in a time of murderous wars. Besides his sculptures, he creates compositions with the Phoenician peeble-stones he gathers on the shores, and starting from almost nothing, he eventually composes simple, touching and astonishing scenes of life.
“I never sold any of my works, why should I?”, he said. The precarious conditions in which he is forced to live since the war, help him nevertheless to maintain his independence and his connection with the most vulnerable and needy ones. “I would like my modest house full of my sculptures to become a free museum, for Syrian children, for the victims of war, for those who will build our tomorrow.” The recent international success that Nizar encountered through his artistic work has not changed his opinions, he continues to create his ephemeral compositions: “The peeble-stones are difficult to affix and it would require a budget that I do not have! But is it really important? The works are photographed and shared with the whole world, so they gain an eternal life, which is enough for me! “.
His artistic goal is purely human, his favorite subjects being Syrian people, poverty, precariousness, injustice, war and destruction, all this told with his peeble-stones, as visual tales filled with heart-touching emotions. Just like the images of his homeland and his people, his compositions of peeble-stones shape a universe in color that testifies to human life, and his work seems to be inscribed in a space out of time, a space of eternity, such as an ultimate cry of hope.
Text: Khaled Youssef
Translation & editing: Danii Kessjan
Syrian Poetry: A Song of Freedom
Established at the heart of society, independent of religion and sectarianism that have recently emerged, poetry has always been present in Syrian people’s everyday life.
In spite of the international conflict that is taking place in Syria, and despite the difficulty, the violence and the loss of reference points, the collections of Syrian poems continue to cover the Damascene paving around the Umayyad Mosque, recounting utopian love, the “modern love”, revolting against a society that continue to struggle as to break the prohibitions, and against the powers that have difficulty evolving.
Following the poetic movement of the twentieth century, some people revolted against the classical Arabic poetry judged too rigid and excessively regulatory. Inspired by Lorca and Neruda, as well as by Eluard and Aragon, the verses break, the words repeat, and the rhyme becomes secondary, giving those indefatigable dreamers a place for their sensibility. The verses of a poem become the only refuge for poets, a parallel world where freedom finds its horizon.
The urgency of catching up with Syrian and Arab society, compared with Western societies, has led many Syrian writers and poets to revolt, above all, against social prohibitions. The human body, sexuality, and the free love lived in the open were among the favorite themes of these men and women who wanted to cry out their feelings.
Ghada Samman’s “Sentimental viagra with extended release”, as well as Nizar Kabbani’s “Body Alphabet” and Nizar Kabbani’s “Breast Language”, dare to put on an erotic tone which, although shocking to some at the beginning, reverses the rules considered decent, chaste and morally pure, and allows themselves to be quickly adopted by a large public in the Arab world, mainly by women eager for freedom and tired of considering their bodies as a taboo.
“The party of sadness that has millions of adherents in the Arab world” frightens poets as they seek to build other parties, with the slogan: love, freedom and change.
Syria has given to the Arab world the most read and known poets of the whole Arab world. Probably owing to their courage and their revolted spirit, but surely also because the Syrian poets have always been concerned about collective problems and connected with their counterparts in other countries. Influenced by Arab nationalism, the goals meet up and the causes to be defended are far from being local, but extend to the vast Arab world.
Between the dreams they try to materialize and the freedom that escapes them, the Syrian poets have to face reality. At the heart of the current conflict, the voices are rising, in an attempt to find a reason not to take part in the conflict but to denounce all forms of violence, to refuse fundamentalism, and to progressively evolve towards secularism that is not imposed.
“The real revolution is coming out of the public squares and out of not mosques” says Adonis, who has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. He is considered a traitor by all the fundamentalists who are fighting the power in place, since he calls for an intellectual revolution and a change in society, which would lead to an evolution towards a genuine tolerant democracy.
In all its forms, and despite its various influences, poetry remains for the Syrian people a weapon of massive liberation. A liberation of an authoritarian regime, of course, but also a liberation from a hypocritical and self-destructive society, as well as from stagnant religions.
Reading Syrian poetry is a step towards tolerance and open-mindedness.
Text: Khaled Youssef
Translation & editing : Danii Kessjan
Selected Poems Translated From Arabic:
Should I shed phosphorescent tears
So that my people know the grief I feel for their daily lives? – Jamal Tahan
Behind a bad poem
A tired poet
Let’s respect his broken dreams – Jamal Tahan
How could I have
Borne the burdens on my chest
Of hundreds empty streets
And hundreds suitcases I’ve carried
Under the rain of exiles
If I did not squeeze between my fingers
The map of my homeland? – Ghada Al Samman
Blood emerges from the dry earth
I’m dressing up within you
And I drink
Oh freedom! – Sania Saleh
At the moment
A butterfly comes out of our pockets
It’s called my country
A beautiful Damascene comes from our lips
It’s called my country
Minarets, birds, streams, roses
Out of our shirts
I would like to see you
But I’m afraid of hurting my country
I would like to make love to you in my own way
But I am ashamed of my futility
In front of my country’s sadness – Nizar Kabbhani
In the West
The poet was born free
Like a fish in the middle of the sea
At their home
He was born in a dust bag
He sings for dusty kings
For dusty swords
It’s a miracle
That poetry transforms the night into day
At our home
Unlike in the West
We don’t write poetry
But wills and testaments – Nizar Kabbhani
My neck got used to
To the strings
And my body got used to
To the ambulances – Nizar Kabbhani
I’m a poet
Who writes aloud
And who loves aloud
Hanging on the door of a city
Who doesn’t know childhood – Nizar Kabbhani
My wounds are aging
Their blood is no longer shimmering red
Their depth is no longer persuasive
Nationalism, freedom, left-wing, right-wing, Palestine, Iraq, the Arabs…
I should put some order in my worries – Mohamad Al Maghout
Cut off from its roots
Faded this morning
I put it on the list of
The martyrs of exile… – Khaled Youssef
As a child,
I thought of invading the world with my bright eyes
As I grew up,
I rejected a world that never ceased to invade me…
Who will remove the dust
That years have laid down on our dreams?
Who will bring back to us the Gods who inhabited our childhood?
Questions are growing
But answers are running away… – Khaled Youssef