Contextual Enquiries: Without words- Syria’s Contemporary Art Scene in London

It is of the upmost of importance to veer from Cambodia to other countries with similar histories or current issues whilst researching for my own materials. The following Images are from an Exhibition in London in 2013. Without Words is a collection of images of Contemporary artist in Syria. The Art itself had to be smuggled out of the country due to it’s extremely fragile political state in order to keep the work safe and deals with some of the horrors faced by the people who live there.

It is important to show the contemporary artists undertaking their own take on present events and Syria is undoubtably one of the most well documented human rights disasters in the world at the present time. The artists all hail from Syria and give a first hand view on the horrors of war in their home land, the visceral indifference between warring factions and the violence, gore and sadness that becomes an everyday occurrence for those living there. Most of the images have been painted which is of particular interest to me due to my own use of the medium.

Hamid Sulaiman’s Light After Dark (2012) below Is an especially harrowing picture depicting a group of people crouching huddled up in the corridor of a Police Station. The figures are shown as quivering shapes without any discernable features however it is clear that they are human forms, devoid of anything recognisable that actually confirms their state other than that of a particular sadness, crouching, huddling, holding another smaller shape, such strong imagery set against the backdrop of a country in turmoil.

Hamid Sulaiman, Light After Dark (2012)
Hamid Sulaiman, Light After Dark (2012)

There is without a doubt a different feeling gained from looking at one of the artists paintings and say a photograph of a similar image. Tarek Tuma’s horrifying painting is of 13 year old Hamza Bakkour.

I found the video taken of the person in the painting, in a link on a Syrian bloggers website ‘A Syrian Soul’. It is possibly the worst thing I have ever seen. I watched for approximately 5 seconds before stopping not expecting the level of violence, it was too much.

The painting and the video show the 13 year Hamza Bakkour with his jaw completely blown off by a bullet.

There are actually very little differences between both the painting and the video content wise but I don’t believe that many people would watch the video, I certainly would strongly recommend against it, and here lies a problem. With something documented with such a strong graphic image people are inclined to turn away even though the image is there to be viewed, for people to learn, take action, change, protest.

A painting has the ability to take the very essence of the action or subject, in this case taking the image of extreme violence and sadness, a child shot in the jaw, and replicate it in a way that provokes that same feeling of sadness, remorse, regret, the same feeling that can make someone change, take action, protest or revolt.

I knew before I watched the video that the image was of violence and the horrors of war, because of the colours and the textures I didn’t need to see the video but the painting brought me to it.

This is how painting is still not only relevant but of great importance in governing the people in the world who are there to govern us, to keep people in power in check. Hamza Bakkour Died 2 days after he was shot and I doubt very few people will know of it I certainly didn’t in a war between two sides, one of which is his own government, Tarek Tuma knew and escaped the country with his paintings, an image of a war which, just like the images of Tuol Sleng has the potential to be repeated again and again.

Tarek Tuma, Hamza Bakkour, 2013, Oil on canvas, 205 x 175 cm, from the series Homo Sacer / Courtesy of the Artist
Tarek Tuma, Hamza Bakkour, 2013, Oil on canvas, 205 x 175 cm, from the series Homo Sacer / Courtesy of the Artist

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