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

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