art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

The Book To Read: Victims Of A Map.

7-berlin-biennale-khaled-jarrar-briefmarken-2012-651x940/photo © Khaled Jarrar/

Victims of a Map is a beautiful bilingual anthology of Arabic poetry, including works of Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al Qasim and Adonis. The three of them are absolute stars in the world of (Arabic) poetry.

Alongside the original Arabic, this book includes thirteen poems by Darwish and a long work by Adonis written during the Beirut siege in 1982 – never before published. It’s really a labour of love and you can feel it in every page (lovely translation by Abudllah al-Udhari).

In The Desert (Diary of Beirut siege), great Syrian poet Adonis writes:

“My era tells me bluntly

you do not belong

I answer bluntly

I do not belong

I try to understand you

Now I am a shadow

Lost in the forest

Of a skull”

Most of the poetry by Adonis and Darwish and al-Qasim particularly, is written in a simple, everday language, but it speaks of the things greater than life – the hollowness of isolation, inevitability of “destiny”, solidity of “roots”, overwhelming hopelessness and permanent yearning for freedom.

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In We are Entitled to Love the End of Autumn Darwish writes:

“We are entitled to love the end of autumn and ask:

Is there room for another autumn in the field to rest our bodies like coal?

An autumn lowering its leaves like gold. I wish we were fig leaves

I wish we were an abandoned plant

To witness the change of seasons. I wish we didn’t say goodbye

To the south of the eye so as to ask what

Our fathers had asked when they flew on the tip of the spear”

As it is written in the introduction of this book, the poems in Victims of a Map express not only the fate of Arabs, Syrians or Palestinians, but also of the humanity itself, trapped in a contemporary tragedy. The resistance poetry by Darwish, al-Qasim and Adonis, raises a local tragedy to a level of a universal one.

Just think about it – how many people are today, and in how many ways – victims of a map? In The Story of a City, al-Qasim writes:

“A blue city

dreamt of tourists

shopping day after day.

A dark city

hates tourists

scanning cafes with rifles.”

Read this beautiful little anthology! Like it is often the case with great poetry books – you’ll never finish reading it and it is worth all of your time.

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Previous The Book To Read:

War Works Hard

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

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art of resistance, Syria

Remembering Louay Kayali: Life Is On The Streets.

the match seller/The Match Seller by Louay Kayali/

Louay Kayali was a Syrian modern artist, a brilliant painter born in Aleppo in 1934. He began painting at the age of eleven and held his first solo exhibition when he was eighteen.

Kayali died in 1978, from burns incurred from his bed catching fire, reportedly from a cigarette (he suffered from depression, leaving many to think it was suicide).

Kayali studied art at the Accademia di Belle Arti, and met Syrian artist Wahbi Al-Hariri there – they would remain friends for the rest of Kayali’s life (Al-Hariri became his mentor). Later on, Fateh Moudarress (also mentored by Al-Hariri) and Kayali represented Syrian modern art at the Venice Biennial Fair.

laundrette/The Laundrette/

Kayali graduated in Rome in 1961 and returned to Syria where he started his career as a fine arts professor at Damascus University, where Fateh Moudarres also taught.

Kayali’s artwork changed during his life, he was inspired by various things and made beautiful paintings of still nature and village landscapes, but what moves me deeply when it comes to his work are his painting of “ordinary” people, the way he captured life on the streets.

woman-selling-figs/Woman Selling Figs/

When Kayali made his atrwork about the people around him, people we pass by every day, people that are not often thought of as important, as the ones that deserve attention – that is when his art became so powerful, it became a statement of resistance, a portrait of struggle that cannot and should not be unseen.

His ways of capturing the psychological condition of the people, the harshness of life in the way they hold their bodies, the way they look at you – it is a true skill, it is a way of seeing and understanding people, not just trying to paint them.

In that sense, his portraits of people in the streets of Syria, the relationships he made, can be compared to those of Vincent Van Gogh and the miners he lived with and painted.

fisherman in arwad/Fisherman in Arwad/

Kayali is also famous for capturing the agony and the decampment of Palestinians in his paintings, particularly during the 1967 war.

His painting Then What shows Palestinian refugees, barefoot and disoriented, and it remained one of his most powerful works. You can see the misery, you can feel the despair.

kayai so what/Then What/

In his work, Kayali did not adhere to the idyllic image of national heroes, and his shift towards “everyday” people did not go without criticism. After all of the turmoils and attacks, in 1977 he decided to leave for Italy, he sold his house and left Syria, dreaming that he would work on his art in Rome, in a more peaceful atmosphere.

But he couldn’t do that and he returned to Aleppo, to live in solitude. He died in solitude, but in his work all of the connections he made remain visible.

He cared about people deeply. He was a keen observer of life, a mad person, a genious, a humanist not well understood in a world that is very often so far from humanistic values.

the bread maker/The Bread Maker/

He made sure we remember and notice the bread makers, fishermen, ice cream sellers, corn sellers, match sellers, bead sellers, fig sellers, socks sellers, flower boys, flute players, shoe-shine boys, oud players, cleaning ladies, beggars, refugees, single mothers….

That is why we should remember Louay Kayali.

//all paintings by Louay Kayali//

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Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Ronit Elkabetz: A Thing Of Soul And Beauty

Remembering Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

Remembering Mahdi ‘Amel: The Importance of Resistance

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art of resistance, Syria

After | Aleppo.

aleppo/Aleppo, illustration by the Lebanese artist Jana Traboulsi/

After Aleppo by Jehan Bseiso

I learned to read early.

But the truth is, sometimes I wish the letters remained funny drawings for longer, before the uninvited tyranny of words, and

before other tongues found home in my big mouth.

I don’t mean it literally.

One day, we will go back to Aleppo you said.

You don’t mean it literally.

Habeebi four years ago we shouted for change, and now we are citizens of border towns.

We go from Turkey, to Lebanon, to Egypt, but we don’t find Aleppo.

We have food vouchers, and, assistance criteria, and, intermittent empathy.

I don’t write any more poetry.

The boat is sinking,

literally,

but I don’t want to leave this room.

It smells like jasmine and you taste like freedom.

This poem was published in January last year, on Mada Masr.

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art of resistance, Syria

Gylan Safadi: Paint It Black.

safadi3/artwork © Gylan Safadi/

Gylan Safadi is a Syrian artist, born in Soueida in 1977.  He is a graduate of Damascus University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and has lived and worked in Syria until couple of years ago, when he moved to Lebanon.

Prior to 2012, Safadi’s work was characterized by strong colors, but that changed with the escalating war and  horror in Syria. As he put it one of his interviews, he just couldn’t paint in colors anymore.

safadi4

Painting in black seemed real, it seemed true to the way things were. Painting became Safadi’s way to salvage the memories of faces, friends, dreams, and experiences amidst the destruction of war in Syria.

“All that surrounds me is colorless, only scorched memories come to me and I try to gather their shreds on my canvas before they are blown away”, Safadi explained in an interview with Skeyes.

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I find these images so powerful, a real testimony of pain, despair, uncertainty. It shows how war looks like, how it feels, and it just might be a little less easy for us to turn our heads away from this.

safadi/all images © Gylan Safadi/

You can find out more about Safadi and find more of his work on his Facebook page.

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art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

Ghayath Almadhoun: The Details.

4Safwan_Dahoul/art by Safwan Dahoul/

Ghayath Almadhoun is a Palestinian poet born in Damascus, Syria, in 1979, and living in Stockholm since 2008. With the Syrian poet Lukman Derky, he founded Bayt al-Qasid (House of Poetry), a space for freewheeling expression in Damascus.

Almadhoun has published three collections of poetry, the latest in Beirut in 2014. In Sweden, his poetry has been translated and published in two collections, and awarded the Klas de Vylders stipendiefond for immigrant writers.

The following is Almadhoun’s poem The Details. This translation for The Details was originally published in Tripwire Journal.

Do you know why people die when they are pierced by a bullet?
Because 70% of the human body is made up of water
Just as if you made a hole in a water tank.

Was it a random clash dancing at the head of the alley when I passed
Or was there a sniper watching me and counting my final steps?

Was it a stray bullet
Or was I a stray man even though I’m a third of a century old?

Is it friendly fire?
How can it be
When I’ve never made friends with fire in my life?

56-264168-safawan-dahoul-dream-80-180-x-200-cm.-acrylic-on-canvas-2014

Do you think I got in the way of the bullet
Or it got in my way?
So how am I supposed to know when it’s passing and which way it will go?

Is an encounter with a bullet considered a crash in the conventional sense
Like what happens between two cars?
Will my body and my hard bones smash its ribs too
And cause its death?
Or will it survive?

Did it try to avoid me?
Was my body soft?
And did this little thing as small as a mulberry feel female in my maleness?

The sniper aimed at me without bothering to find out that I’m allergic to snipers’ bullets
And it’s an allergy of a most serious kind, and can be fatal.

The sniper didn’t ask my permission before he fired, an obvious example of the lack of civility that has become all too common these days.

For more on Almadhoun’s poetry, visit Cabaret Wittgenstein. For more of Safwan Dahoul’s art, visit Ayyam Gallery.

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

The Art Of Mohammad Khayata.

khayataweb/Walking on Thread, photo via Mohammad Khayata website/

I was first introduced to Mohammad Khayata’s work while I was strolling down the streets of Beirut last November. On of his works (Walking on Thread) was exhibited in a gallery I passed by and it caught my eye immediately. I told myself I should remember his name and investigate more about his art when I come back home.

Khayata is a painter and a photographer, born in Damascus in 1985. His first solo exhibition was organized in Lebanon, three years ago.

mohamad kh

Khayata’s work is beautiful – it’s sensitive, powerful, thoughtful. In Bits and Pieces, he portrays symbols of what went on in Syria, combining stories and memories like a patched work stitched and tied to a canvas.

The images capture real life grief – from the portrait of a man wrapped in a patched quilt made of memories to another one disappearing into a patched quilt holding a suitcase in preparation to leave behind his world and life as he knew it.

He started from the captured moment, sketched it and finally gave birth to an entity painted on a canvas full of personal memories, feelings and passions to make visual the unspoken words.

khayata3

In Blue Period, Khayata starts from his brother’s story, “who filled a boat with his body and went far away for a new hope surrounded by whales, to smugglers who create creative ways to fill our bodies in tanks of chocolates and oil”.

The work is about the burden of our choices, how they are forced upon us, how it can all change our lives.

It is “about our choices that became rare, destiny that became like that of a fisherman who throws his hook in a sea of memories hoping his bate will catch possessing thread of power, or a suitcase to emigrate as far as you can get in this world, a bullet to kill or get killed by, or an empty bottle to lock and isolate yourself in”.

mkahay

Remember Khayata’s name, like I did that day when I passed by that little gallery. He is an artist whose compassion and tenderness goes a long way.

//all photos © Mohammad Khayata//

For more on Khayata’s work, visit his website.

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art of resistance, Syria

Playlist: Kaan Wafi | Pieces From Exile.

kaan wafi/photo © Pieces From Exile/

Displaced Syrian artist and producer Kaan Wafi has been living in Germany for the past two and a half years. Like many Syrians in exile, he is preoccupied with the war and its devastating effects on the country where over 300 000 people have been killed, over 4 million have become refugees and over 7 million are internally displaced.

Wafi’s album Pieces From Exile is a pastiche of clips from Syrian activists and survivors of war mixed with hip hop beats and samples from traditional Syrian music. The album was done in memory of those lost, abducted and displaced by the war.

The album’s dreamy sound creates a sense of nostalgia relatable to any exiled person – looking back and going through memories of a homeland devastated by war, violence, poverty. Dreams of change on hold, rivers of people leaving the country to find the doors already closed before them.  Darwish is echoing everywhere – The Earth is closing on us, pushing us through the last passage.

One hundred percent of proceeds of this record will be donated to Syrian NGO White Helmets. Do something good today – listen to the music, buy the album.

Previous Playlist:

Yasmine Hamdan

Atab by Cheb Abid

Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud

Khebez Dawle

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

Invisible Children | Syrian Refugees In Beirut.

/image © Rania Matar/

Just this month, Syrian Centre for Policy Research published a report examining the current state in Syria, after five years of war and conflict. Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, according to the SCPR – a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations until it stopped collecting statistics 18 months ago.

In all, 11.5% of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, the report estimates. The number of wounded is put at 1.9 million. Almost half of the population has been displaced. Last week, the International Red Cross said that 50,000 people had fled the upsurge in fighting in the north, requiring urgent deliveries of food and water.

Many of them have nowhere to go to, every country seems to be closing its borders, building up a fortress. The SCPR report notes that the rest of the world has been slow to wake up to the dimensions of the crisis. “Despite the fact that Syrians have been suffering for… five years, global attention to human rights and dignity for them only intensified when the crisis had a direct impact on the societies of developed countries.”

It is estimated that more than one million Syrian refugees found their new home in Lebanon, some in refugee camps, some in basic housing, and some on the streets. If you come to Beirut, you will see Syrian children selling flowers, chewing gum and wet tissues, you will see them playing music or standing silently at the corner of the street.

They became invisible children, something everybody is so used to that they don’t notice it anymore. Lebanese photographer Rania Matar decided to put a face on their individual stories, often crammed into one narrative.

Matar writes: “I was poignantly struck by the Syrian refugee children and teens standing at every other street corner, most often begging for money, sometimes selling red roses or miscellaneous trinkets, or carrying beat-up shoe-shining equipment. They all said they were working.”

She continues: “They were being brought by the truckload every morning, dropped off on the streets and expected to bring money back every day. People often walked or drove by them seemingly indifferent or just fed-up by what the influx of refugees has done to the country’s economy and resources and by what the city has become with kids begging in most cosmopolitan areas of Beirut.”

 2014

Matar was moved by the children, the teenagers and the young mothers begging on the streets, and struck by the fact that they had become almost faceless and invisible to the locals.

She noticed how those kids and teens seemed to blend with the graffiti on the walls in front of which they were standing, just like an added new layer of ripped billboard advertising, as invisible and as anonymous.

“Being perceived by people and on the news as ‘the refugees’ the group identity seemed to define them more than their individual identity. Maybe by keeping them individually anonymous, one can more easily ignore the magnitude of the refugee crisis.

I tried through my images to put an individual face to the invisible children, to give them their dignity and portray their individuality”, Matar writes.

To find out more about Matar’s project Invisible Children and see more photos – visit The Story Institute. For more on Matar’s work in general, visit her official website.

//all photos © Rania Matar//

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art of resistance, Syria

Syrian Refugees | Lost Family Portraits.

dm//photo © Dario Mitidieri/Cafod//

Lost Family Portraits is a heartbreaking photo project by the great photographer Dario Mitideri. Mitieri took photos of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in every photo there is room left for family members lost in the war.

He photographed ten families and in some cases there was a very high chance that the missing person was dead – families just don’t know what happened to them, everybody and everything is still torn apart.

dariom

dariomi

mni

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syriaref//all photos © Dario Mitidieri/Cafod//

• • •

For more photos and individual family stories, visit Cafod.

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