An emancipating exhibition from uprising artisans of Syria.
Assessing the value of art and culture in Western Asia amid “such untold bloodshed,” editors and Syrian journalists Halasa, Omareen and Mahfoud collect striking works of literary, photographic and hand-drawn self-expression from more than 50 talented, passionate contributors, both new and established. The opening photomontage honors victims of the 1982 Hama massacre and is followed by Samar Yazbek’s searingly haunting journey through northern Syria, a devastated countryside “made of earth, blood, and fire, where explosions never ceased.” Animator Sulafa Hijazi’s brutally explicit “cycle of violence” artwork represents her history living in violent, revolutionary-era Syria, as do defected illustrator Khalil Younes’ ink-on-paper creations. The written compositions are permeated with violence, bloodshed and familial sorrow, but also hope and resilience within a culture struggling to regain some semblance of citizenship. Amassed here is a dramatic tapestry of poster art, cartoons, inspired poetry, digital and cellphone video stills of bombed neighborhoods riskily posted to social media, and the anonymously produced finger-puppet play series “Top Goon.” Syrian artistic culture has emerged as the ultimate weapon against the country’s despotism, but these works also reflect a complicated revolution with fatal consequences: Graffitists like those featured in the book can be killed if caught stenciling city walls with radical countergovernmental street art—though they have devised a “secret toolkit for spray-painting quickly and surreptitiously.” Unfurling from the formerly closed fist of tyrannical oppression, these pieces are emblematic of a repressed culture’s innovative activism, courageously echoing the editors’ belief that “creativity is not only a way of surviving the violence, but of challenging it.”
An English Pen Award winner, this anthology forms a rich, creatively diverse motif sublimely representative of a country and its people awash in strife and insurgency.