‘Syrian Art: Of Today’ – Group Art Exhibition In Aid Of Oxfam

‘Syrian Art: Of Today’ – Group Art Exhibition In Aid Of Oxfam, Mayfair, 1st – 5th April 2014 | Tim Forrest’s E & A

“Syrian Art: Of Today”, a project under VC ART, was showing and selling the works of Syrian artists Fadi Al Hamwi, Tarek Butayhi, Mohamad Khayata, Thaer Maarouf and Ashraf Raheb. Ultimately to help refugees through Oxfam, a percentage of the proceeds will benefit refugees. As successful as they already are, the artists are more than deserving of the attention this show has been generating.

Hopefully, Oxfam doesn’t take these artists and their cause for granted!

Handicraft | Discover Lebanon

Handicraft | Discover Lebanon

Three vital extracts from this page:

Contemporary craftsmen have perpetuated the precious and traditional techniques of their ancestors. Carpet weaving factories in Aïdamoun,Tripoliand Fekheh remain loyal to the Anatolian school, while those of Baaqline still follow the Iranian discipline.

Carpets woven inLebanonare polychromic and very supple. Most commonly used colors, other than black and white, are red, navy blue, pink and yellow. They are often used as floor carpets, but also as sofa or bed covers, decorative pillow cases, or hung as tapestries…


…In the Beqaa valley, more specifically in Fekheh, Jdeidet el-Fekheh, Irsal or Bakkifa, craftswomen weave knotted pile carpets. They weave on vertical looms (haute lisse), producing rudimentary carpets that resemble closely to Anatoly’sBergamacarpets invented byCentral Asia’s nomads.

The knotted pile carpets were manufactured in dark colors, like navy blue, burgundy or brown, and their background was sprinkled with small geometrical designs, lozenges and hexagons. The traditional hand and eye motifs were also commonly found.

Knotted pile carpets are manufactured with ewe wool imported fromBaalbek, and renown for its strength. The wool was first washed and combed, then dyed and spinned, and finally woven.

Traditionally, six women would sit on the ground facing a vertical loom. One of them would sing her directions to the others, hence communicating the number of knots to be made and the colors to be used. In the Beqaa region, women used the symmetrical knot (also called Turkish knot) which held the two weft threads from outside and came out from the inside as a tuft, thus forming the soft side of the carpet. After each knot, the craftswomen cut the thread with their knife. A row of knots is followed by three rows of weft that weavers would press manually with the help of a comb. When weaving is completed, the carpet’s surface is leveled with special scissors.

These women would also use their knotted pile weaving craft to manufacture the pillows and bed covers that every bride had to have in her trousseau…


…While in the village of Hermel, 58 km of Baalbek, workshops weave praying rugs with colored corn straw…


Wow, where did I miss this??!

Much thanks to Joseph Tarrab, a Lebanese Art Critic (to whom it is apparently unjust to describe without mentioning “prominent” or “renowned” at least once), I landed some leads for actual recent and on-going craft-related initiatives!

Aside: Joseph Tarrab was also a member of the Jury in The Age of Bronze: Bronze Casting Competition, an event coordinated by Cesar Nammour and Gabriele Schaub of the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, for which I was honored with two awards. I can’t stress how strange it is to have any association with Mr. Tarrab, in more ways than one!

In light of the last month, Part II: Enough waiting

View outside a gate, towards a big patch of garden and stepping stones in Gemmayze.

View outside a gate, towards a big patch of garden and stepping stones in Gemmayze.

There has been a number of things in the works with the weaving project and 392RMEIL393. Here’s a brief list:

1) I want to begin a series of workshops on weaving in two techniques, 3 times a week. Details haven’t been decided yet, in terms of budget, timing, number of students per session, materials, etc. I have 8 small looms and Yousef brought in tools to accommodate each. I’m counting on hearing from some of you out there. I need students! We gotta give this a good spin before sending it out to the world!

2) Speaking of sending this project out to the world, I am actively looking for an NGO or INGO to help support this project, and most importantly get in touch with potential volunteers from the Syrian communities they have been established in. In most cases, I have been emailing this or that group and individual. In a few cases, the interested individual or organization reached me or stopped in to check out the project.

The issue here is finding Syrian refugee volunteers and asking them if they are interested to take a few workshop sessions of their own volition, and following that up with transportation and other desired services for them, like food and beverages. I was informed this could become a huge legal matter if it’s not done in conjunction with a representing body, like an NGO. That said, if a group or initiative – already active in any location(s) and well acquainted with the refugees residing within – shows interest in the weaving project, the work required to find volunteers is cut in half. The services can then be negotiated.

It sounds like a simple enough plan. Now it’s just a matter of finding the right people, and waiting. A bit of waiting, but waiting nonetheless.

3) Although it might be best to wait before announcing this, there are plans to set up an official opening or show of the art work in progress, followed by an official set of workshops. The idea for these workshops seems to be less rigid about placing sessions on certain days at certain times. It will be a combination of that approach and an all-welcome and feel-free-to-come-in atmosphere. I think this will be a series of public sessions or workshops(?).  Maybe once the plan is set, I can say exactly what it is and give a proper description of it.

4) I am actively looking for other artists and craftspeople who can participate in the main line of the project: imparting a trade or craft to Syrian refugees. If you or anyone you know is interested, please reach me!

5) This one’s just fun. I have here what has been a plain, raw wood and cotton loom that all of you have looked at over and over:

1424272_10152228792922594_1263209888_n 77186_10152228792852594_2114894455_n 1625586_10152228792767594_104362341_nNow, I’ve had enough of looking at the same thing. I’m sure some of you out there could contribute something to break the monotony. For the wood, it could be a drawing, illustration, calligraphy, stencil, stickers or glue-on items like image prints, cut-outs or text. The cotton strings can’t take too many hits, as they will eventually become a rug, but if there are slips of thin material anyone wants to insert or something delicate on the threads you’d like to draw – very delicately – with a desired effect in mind, I’m welcome to taking submissions. Of course, credit will be given to all you contributors, or collaborators as I will call you from now on.

I hope to follow up with more ideas for collaborative activities. This will require a little more organizing than what I’ve offered up here. I realized how long it’s been since I gave some groundwork for the project when a visitor told me that they had no idea I was planning to hold workshops for Syrian refugees, while I simply took it for granted. Oh dear!

Well, I hope I redeemed myself with this blog post. I still continue to look for other initiatives, drives and centers working towards the cause. Happily, the part in my project statement about there being little effort undertaken towards imparting crafts to Syrian refugees in Lebanon no longer holds. The next time I gather my thoughts on this, I will share them here.

All the best to you, reader/future student/future collaborator!

Progress made here and there

This is exactly a month after the last update below. Without the 3-4 days off per week, and possibly with longer sessions of weaving, I could make some serious progress. Below is a photo of the newly arranged space! The … Continue reading

2.19.2014 – Today, I don’t want to make you think…

… I just want you to look (and read a bit). Mahmood Daoud is a Syrian painter. I first met him and saw his work in 392RMEIL393 at the opening of “In the Emptiness”. Mahmood became good company to have … Continue reading

“Syrian refugee relief crisis evokes community-wide response at AUB”

AUB’s News Page published this article providing a comprehensive list of tasks that different departments, societies and clubs have taken in the last two years. The tasks include a roaming clinic program, dispensing medicine, improving shelter and (as of late, more important) agriculture.

News of the Ghata project mentioned here is up again with some nice updates!

In light of the last month, Part I

Poster for Yousef Abdelke's Exhibition in Galerie Tanit.

Poster for Yousef Abdelke’s Exhibition in Galerie Tanit.

Mere du Martyr 2 (2010), by Youssef Abdelke
Mere du Martyr 2 (2010), by Youssef Abdelke

In the last three and a half weeks, I have met a few Syrian artists while in the 392RMEIL393. I have a small notion of what daily struggles they have. Some of them struggle to make a stable living in Lebanon with a steady income, without selling out to the highest bidder. I had the privilege to talk to an Artist (who’s permission was not given to mention them here, so the Artist will remain anonymous until further notice) and gain an understanding of their struggle.

We ran into each other at the newly opened show for Youssef Abdelke‘s past and current works at the Galerie Tanit in Gemmayze. The Artist spoke to me about Abdelke – his back story, previous works, and the latest changes to his new works – then shared their opinion about art venues and what they do to viewers’ reception of works, even the ones with powerful messages like Abdelke’s – once artists or a series of works are brought into an art venue, the meaning and value of the works are diminished through the very fact that it is in an Art venue. People are present simply to say that they have been present, or they will view the works in the same manner they view all works in any Artt venue. The works become things to see, maybe with an acknowledged visual, historical, social or aesthetic value, all of which are available and easy to access, but never in its most crucial context or setting. Abdelke created profound visuals with a laborious technique, but the effect it imposes on viewers in this show may not be enough to get them to budge in the right direction.

So is the impression of a cynic like me. The Artist that was accompanying me may have had a different viewpoint, but aside from what they did genuinely enjoy in Abdelke’s works, they had their reservations on how effective the show is or what kind of effect it leaves (please, take time to check out two links regarding Abdelke at the bottom of the post, on his arrest at a check point in Syria and his exhibition)

The Artist is struggling like all artists because of the way most Art institutions decide to represent them. The Artist had a show at some point, but was unable to sell any work. They were asked to play music in a different venue, and they turned it down stating that they are “not a musician, but a painter.” I asked something I’m sure they’ve been advised to take up: what do they think of the Syrian Artist Residency in Aley. The Artist believes that the residency will represent them as a displaced Syrian when in fact they reserve they should have the choice to be represented differently. Attaching an image, reputation or narrative of a displaced Syrian artist would remove the decision altogether.

I imagine the Artist had dealt with similar situations before. The romanticized idea of a struggling Syrian today, one that even I must have believed in, is imposed on them. If anyone were to ask the Artist about their work (some dreamy, some ethereal, and almost fantasy-like) and if it reflects the Syrian crisis in any way, the Artist reserves the right to say that it doesn’t. Institutions, however, don’t always ask for permission to exhibit works solely on the artist’s conditions, but also on those of trends in media and cultural practices. The institution certainly doesn’t avoid/correct falsehoods if the image, reputation or narrative sells. The Artist’s work should stand on its own, and not take on value purely from the institution’s view or that of visitors to the space.

That last paragraph is my conjecture alone. I understand I’m taking a bit of a risk by mentioning the Syrian Artist Residency in Aley, and have up til now been admiring the works of art that have been made there. Also, the Artist may in fact want to address the crisis with their work. One point holds true: they want to choose to address it, and not be told to.


These are a few photos of the new space in 392RMEIL393 that the loom has been moved to.


View of the entrance to residence/studio space behind the 392rmeil393 project space.

Garden and outdoor seating area by the entry gate.

Door to the garden, from inside the space.


The ramp up to the space and the rest of the estate.


One door to the main estate.


A patch of a bigger garden and elaborate doorway.

Right now, I am typing inside the space in which I am supposed to be weaving. I had to record my initial thoughts and impressions of the place and what it means to be here in order to transcribe them later.

Listening to it, I still find it gorgeous and believe that I am privileged to be here. While working, I have been wondering how much of my efforts are generating real results, and how much I am helping with the cause of my work. I reviewed a few of my options:

1) Hear from others about what they make of my actions

2) Set my sights elsewhere, as my work has no direct effect or is not directly contributing to the cause on a timely basis

3) I should keep weaving, but also look into what else I should do

There is a note-to-self made here that I should begin listing individual efforts to get people to help Syrian refugees immediately (things that have been done already and successfully!). Another note-to-self reminds me to address the “umbrella” I am hoping to set up a reception for, sort of a bigger idea under which smaller ideas can be addressed (more to be covered on this in a later post), and why I agree and disagree with this approach.

I wanted to go into all of that in this post, but more has happened than I can account for. I believe what I addressed first in this post has a place in my blog, and should be discussed. In line with my first of three options, I really want to hear what you think.

Articles on Youssef Abdelke:

“Syrian artist, Youssef Abdelke, arrested” on NOW Media, July 19, 2013

“Syrian artist shows trauma of war in charcoal sketches” on NDTV, February 10, 2014

Please, read this and consider helping in one or more ways

Apologies for the long wait. There really has been a lot to do lately! I will get back on track shortly, but in the mean time (somewhat outside the sphere of Intraweaving) please give some time and care to the rebuilding and restocking of this historic library in Tripoli, Lebanon, as its deadline to fulfillment is approaching and it is just close enough to make the cut!


The following is an email I received two days ago, with the approaching deadline of a crowdfunding project to reconstruct an old library in Tripoli, Lebanon, which was burned down in early January. I invite everyone to read it and give the time that they can to help the individual behind this.
Dear Saba,
I’m sure you’ve heard, or read, Tripoli’s Library and 2nd largest library in Lebanon, was torched on January 3 in an overnight act of violence, where 25,000+ of rare historical books and manuscripts were lost. While communities have come together, from Lebanon to the United States, to organize book drives to help restock the library, the library needs financial support to be rebuilt and restocked with its rare collection.
Father Ibrahim Surouj, the owner of the library, is working in collaboration with Zoomaal (the Arab crowdfunding platform aimed at promoting Arab Creativity and Innovation) and Global Shapers…

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