This work is specially dedicated to all those who were not able to share their stories, and who's sufferance stayed in the shadows of big narratives, for all those who were killed without leaving any trace behind and because of the current atrocious constant oppression in Syria, and in other countries where people are constantly under political unlimited, cold-blooded threats. This work is also dedicated to each person who despite everything, is trying to find out about her or his inner-voice, and to make it heard, in the middle of countries and places where the individual has simply no voice, and if so, will be punished sooner or later because of that unique voice.
About the work
When starting from late 2011, the Syrian people were forced to leave Syria and some of them came to Lebanon, numbers of Lebanese reacted in an exaggerated racist way against the coming of the Syrians "en masse" to Lebanon. I wanted first to welcome the Syrians to Lebanon, to welcome all those amazing new faces, and among them some of those who dared to sparkle a revolution in one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world, and whom by coming over to us in Lebanon, carried so much hope and pride, a fresh wind, into a country already torn by the war, and where on the faces of people, it's hard to read any hope, despite that it has been fifteen years almost the Lebanese war supposedly ended. So I started inviting Syrian individuals to my studio in Beirut. Together, we had coffee, tea, we had beers, we had talks, and I noted what we said, and I made expressive and suggestive portraits or details of their amazingly resilient faces onto my yellow notepad. My guests were very open-minded to accept sharing those intimate moments with me. I always hoped they like my drawings, or some of them at least, and I tried to offer them one of their favorite drawings I made, for them to keep as a memory of our time spent together.
This work began in 2012, as an ongoing series of portraits, or perhaps time documents. The series is made after directly meeting with Syrian individuals, Palestinians and others who were born or lived in Syria and who were forced to move to Lebanon in the last few years. The work is expanding, following the route and the path of many of those individuals who have now fled to other countries, after the residency permits' obligations for the Syrians in Lebanon have been made very hard to satisfy notably since 2015.
In the beginning there was much hope as I said, today we are at another turn and the revolution soon had turned into a war against the people. Today, we are witnessing a sort of a regional war, happening on the groundds of Syria. A war that has deeply affected each and every individual, each and every family in Syria, and often around Syria as well.
Over the time, I kept on recording all those changes. They manifested in bits and pieces of our conversations through drawings and my fragmented scribbles, compiling an ongoing and wide number of personal accounts. The accounts consist of diverse peoples’ personal stories and views and memories from Syria, furthermore, on political opinions, social and historical events that we discussed together, personal and public matters, going back to pre-Assad(s) times, until today, and thinking about our tomorrows.
Sketching each individual helps me get closer in flesh and blood to each person I draw, and taking notes helps me record the story and the diverse opinions and the notes on the diverse social structures that otherwise might be lost among other big lines of political incidents and narratives in Syria, in Lebanon and around.
The drawings and interviews with the newcomers wherever in the world they are now, are noted on yellow legal pad, as well as various A4 papers, but mostly on legal pad, a typical yellow paged notebook that I consider as my drawing surface, and which allows me take notes at the same time as I fluidly draw and write simultaneously our conversations.
My encounters are affected by the fact that my mother is Syrian, and that I have lived in Syria during the Lebanese Civil war intermittently in my childhood; and that at that time, Syria was our refuge for a while, as well as a refuge for many Lebanese families who's mothers or fathers were Syrians like in our case, most probably.
To all individuals and families who accepted to meet me and share their time and stories with me. Over the years, this work has allowed me make friendships that have deeply affected and changed my perspective about pretty much everything. Friendships that have allowed me understand Syria, the Revolution and how it practically happened on the grounds in various cities in Syria. It allowed me follow and trace the aggressions of each incident, yet to understand poetics, irony, multi-faceted aspects of those incidents. The intensity for each individual and family to go through such facts, and to continue surviving after being forced to flee one’s home, soon after a Revolution has become a massacre, and quickly, one of the most atrocious open wars in today’s history. These accounts have allowed me also to understand another view on Lebanon, and how the Syrians look at Lebanon today.
When I followed the path of the people to Athens, then to Germany and other countries, such as Turkey and Morocco and the Netherlands and most recently to Chicago in the USA, I also encountered individuals and families who have other backgrounds than the Syrians, but I also met them and learned so much from their stories, for stories of oppression, and of exile, and how we got to re-make our lives over and over again, repeat themselves, and by writing them down I hope we would learn to avoid oppression in our global history of the human beings, we avoid the typical Lebanese oblivion, which is a sickening disease, resembling when you have the sickness of the sea, when it comes to “forgetting” the massacres of your people and the people around you, even of your “enemies”, no matter where they came from.
With special thanks to Basmeh & Zeitooneh/For Relief and Development at the Shatila Camp Community Center in Beirut, Melissa Network in Athens, Syrian Community Network in Chicago, and the list will be updated soon again.
This ongoing work was made possible with intermittent support by Mondriaan Fonds, Mophradat (previously YATF), Kamel Lazaar Foundation, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Documenta 14, and Chicago Art Institute.