|Human Bull I by Bassem Dahdouh/courtesy of Stories Art Gallery|
When four internationally renowned Syrian artists were asked to contribute pieces showing what they wanted the West to see about their country, they selected artworks representing the untold stories of ordinary people who have endured and persevered through extraordinary circumstances.
Their work form “Stories from Within”, a fascinating exhibition on display at Stories Art Gallery in London’s Mayfair until February 25. The gallery opened last October with the aim of promoting current Syrian artists whose work challenges their country’s one-dimensional image presented in the media. All the “Stories From Within” pieces were created in Syria over the past seven (almost eight) years and it is the first time since the war that they are exhibited in Europe.
“We look for works that widen our vision and shift the image of Syria from refugees and needy victims to be pitied to one of humanity and respect – one with whom the viewers can have a connection,” says Manas Ghanem, the gallery’s director.
“Yes, there is war, destruction and darkness, but you cannot reduce Syria’s 7000 years of existence to seven years of war. Syria is still alive,” adds Ghanem, who was born in Damascus, but educated in the West. Before opening her gallery, she worked as a lawyer in the Middle East and North Africa with UNHCR and Unicef.
Bassem Dahdouh’s mixed media on canvas “humanoid bull” series depicts hybrid beings who are neither fully human nor beast. The humanoid bull “portrays us, oppressed when reaching out for a breath of fresh air in an attempt to lead normal lives," he explains. "It is my hope that we as humanity would succeed and plant some kindness and compassion in this land before it is too late."
Nizar Sabour’s work reflects the emotional impact of the war on the sacred Aramaic town of Maloula, where people still speak the dialect of the Christ and which was ravaged by jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda in 2013. Never before had this ancient mountain town been harmed. His five mixed media canvases represent various views of Maloula and the surrounding Qalamoun mountains, some surrounded by protecting lace, guardian angels and saints or official-looking stamps.
The works of the other artists in the exhibition - Edward Shahda and Asmaa Fayoumi - depict the anxiety of those left behind while waiting for the unknown, and finally also hope, love and compassion, which is what allows people to survive.
People don’t easily associate art and Syria, says Ghanem, but the Syrian art scene has been vivid since the 50s and the 60s, and many of the artists exhibited in the gallery are renowned in the world of contemporary art, including Sabour, Shahda, Dahdouh and Fayoumi, who have works in private collections and galleries from USA to Russia, as well as in Arabic countries like UAE, Kuwait and Lebanon.
“Yet for the past eight years, it’s as if that has just gone, and all that you hear about Syria is different. So we are trying to bring it back,” Ghanem says.
The gallery’s next projects include an Arabic calligraphy exhibition by the famous Syrian artist Mounier Al-Sharaani. They also hope to be able to bring artworks from Iraq, Yemen and other countries.
Stories From Within at the Stories Art Gallery until February 25.
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