‘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!

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

“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.

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

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

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Garden and outdoor seating area by the entry gate.
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Door to the garden, from inside the space.

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

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One door to the main estate.

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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