One of Syria’s most beloved artists, Youssef Abdelke, 62, recently spent a month in prison. He was arrested at a check point in Tartus, after signing a declaration calling for the departure of president Bashar al-Assad. (Among the 70 signatories, Abdelke was one of only two not in exile or hiding in Syria.) It wasn’t his first time in jail; in the 1980’s Abdelke spent two years in behind bars as a political prisoner under Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father. After serving his sentence, he lived in France for 24 years and created his most famous work: a series of etchings of Arab military rules, depicting “vainglorious generals surrounded by squalor.” He returned to Syria in 2006.
To Western readers of the tragic hourly reports of the suffering of Syrian people, it is heartening (and also nearly incomprehensible) to learn that beauty and art are still being pursued and created in Syria–continuing a tradition as venerable as any in the world. (Civilization in Syria dates to around 10,000, BC.) And no matter what, it seem destined to continue: when not studying architecture at Damascus University, Humam Alsalim, 21, is a social media editor promoting the plentiful work of contemporary Syrian artists across popular e-platforms like Art & Painting, Syria Art & Architecture, and his very own Cyrrus Gallery. Alsalim trumpets the work of emerging Syrian artists, hoping for international recognition. That Abdelke is free (in a sense, he can’t leave the country) is one of the few pieces of good news coming out of a troubled nation. Together with the courageous artists Alsalim promotes, the work and freedom of Abdelke is something to think about when you hear the faceless phrase: the Syrian people.
Akram Halabi – Syrian Artist, Takt los IIII, Acrylic on paper, 151x163cm, 2010