Syria off frame

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artist from Syria

raming is the art of choosing; of narrowing a space; of determining what is outside and inside; and giving the latter the absolute power of speaking, while the former remains silent. The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes the frame as a “closed system” which is quintessentially “informatic”, as it conveys visual data and information to the viewers whose understanding of the world is, in fact, framed. Yet, he notices, all framing determines an out-of- field reference designating “that which exists elsewhere.”

“Dino” Ahmad Ali - Silent Scream (2015)

The elsewhere of the image is the object of our “Syria off frame” exhibition. It is a haunting presence; for even if we do not see it, yet it is there. Off frame suggests that the image goes on; it extends beyond the edges of what we see, and inhabits a further space which is to be found somewhere outside the frame. Our visual journey through the works of 140 Syrian artists is a quest for this yet-unseen, yet-unspoken, yet-unexplored.

Ali Ali - Face (2015)

In the past years Syria has been invading our screens with a disturbing reality made of violence, destruction, death. After the early excitement, in March 2011, for the rise of a civil society movement which was documented through a massive use of small mobile video-recording devices, our eyes quickly got tired of watching these pixelated, lo-fi images that had quite soon become unpleasantly filled with blood. Thus we dismissed Syria as being too complex to be understood. We stuck to the frame of pixelated violence, and gave up searching for that elsewhere of the image.

Reem Yassouf - One Message (2015)

Yet that elsewhere can be found everywhere. In the daily gestures of drawing from a besieged area where making art becomes the most essential form of living. In the small memories of childhood in a Syrian village that are preserved and revived through the colors of painting and poetry. In a refugee camp where kids use stones to draw their hope and their anger, and perform a Shakespeare play on Skype with their peers living in a far-away, destroyed city.

Khaled Youssef - Fragile Dream (2015)

Against the magnitude of the geopolitical game being played in Syria and with Syria; against those who assert that Syria is too complex to be understood, therefore to be loved; we have been looking off frame to find the elsewhere of those worn-out, endlessly repeated images that appear daily
on our screens. And we have found it in the miniaturized life that overwhelmingly sprouts out of the 140 10x12 cm canvases featured in the exhibition. We couldn’t possibly have found a better format than the minuscule canvas provided by the Imago Mundi project. What better frame if we want to go off frame? What better format than an off-format to look for the elsewhere of the image?

Wassem Al Marzouki - Nightmare (2015)

Diala Brisly - Robin (2015)

The 140 featured canvases defy the (allegedly) ontological reality of Syria’s frame that we see everyday. They hint at the unseen, the unspoken, the unheard. They suggest a new way of engaging our narrative on Syria, which is also a new way of looking at ourselves as human beings. Where are we, where have we been, when all these creative forms were originated by the hands and souls of people craving life and beauty? What were we looking at while those images, that tell other stories than the story we became so familiar with, were conceived, and formed, and took shape?

Kinda Hibrawi - #Sarmin Chemical Attack (2015)

“Syria off frame” presents 140 Syrian artists from a wide range of generations that span from the ‘50s to the ‘90s; from several cities and villages around Syria; from multiple religious and ethnic backgrounds. It features painters, illustrators, cartoonists, photographers, poets, calligraphers, theater performers and directors, graffiti makers, filmmakers. It includes both established artists whose works are showcased and sold worldwide, and promising students
of Fine Arts, a youth that is taking the first steps down the artistic path. It embraces artists still living in Syria, creating their artworks in a shortage of electricity, water, food; some of them living under siege, and others living under the daily threat of being killed without any reason. It presents the works of Syrian artists living all around the world, from those who have recently been forced to flee the country to those who were born in the diaspora.

Jaber Al Azmeh - Bleeding Bull And The Mad King (2015)

Within the minuscule frame which is the signature of the Imago Mundi project, these artists have haunted the place where the image goes on, beyond the frame. From that place, poets have come back with words visualized by calligraphers through Arabic characters, whose aesthetics is so powerful that it does not require the viewers to understand in order to be understood. Cartoonists and illustrators have asked questions that no-one dares to ask, and visualized the unspeakable answers. Photographers have aimed the lens of their cameras straight at the souls of the Syrian people engaged in the daily activities of life. Graffiti makers have reproduced iconic images speaking of freedom that are found on Syrian walls, in memory of the Syrian people. Visual artists and painters have played with faces, shapes, places, re-creating the visual richness of a country that has been revealingly described as a mosaic.

Seeman Khawam - That Blue Bird (2015)

Abu Ameen / Jean Yves Bizien - Homeland (2015)

Two group projects are featured in the exhibition. The first one, “From Amman to Homs, art as resistance”, is born from the collaboration between the Syrian actor Nawar Bulbul, Syrian refugee children in Amman and another group of children living under siege in Homs, and the French painter Jean Yves Bizien. The two groups of ten children performed together on Skype an adaptation of William Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet” and thanks to Nawar, Jean Yves and Abou Ameen – the teacher of the group in Homs – participated in the creation of the 10x12 cm canvases. In order for Bizien to visualize their thoughts on the canvases, they were asked two questions: “When you look at the sky, what color do you see or would you like to see?” And, “Which word would you write in that sky?” The sky in those canvases (and in the children's answers) is blue, but crossed by streaks of red as well. It is as if we could hear these children, from Homs to Amman, shouting and calling for hope, life, returning home, peace, justice, freedom.

Amir Fakhreddine - Syrian Sleep (2015)
Yasmin Fedda - Abo Hawash (2015)
Avo Kaprealian - Ixion (2015)

“Syria Pixels” is an installation of 35 “mobile video” canvases created and designed by Zaher Omareen. Each canvas contains an embedded mobile device that hides a gem: a one-minute video filmed with a mobile camera by a Syrian film-maker. Each video features a short visual story, a different mood which Zaher has interpreted and reflected through his artwork on the canvas. The videos function both as standalone works and as a collective video voice of Syria. Mobile video devices have been the quintessential form of artistic expression coming out of Syria in the past years; they stand for hundred thousands of eyes and hands of Syrians who have endlessly filmed and documented what is happening in the country. Each frame of “Syria Pixels” is a living tribute to a generation that has found freedom in the frantic gaze of their mobile devices, if not yet in their daily lives.

Rabee Kiwan - Untitled (2015)

“Syria off frame” would never have seen the light without the incredible human network that has supported it globally. There are human beings behind the 140 canvases who have crossed checkpoints from several sides and parties to bring these artworks back to us. They have faced the most difficult circumstances to offer these precious miniatures; more precious of the most precious treasure, because they bring life. Sometimes we have not been successful; the “Cancel” canvas featured in the exhibition reminds us of those who could not make it, those who were not able to contribute their art because of the dire circumstances in which they are living.

Sameer Khalili - Am I A Human? (2015)

Together, the miniaturized lives blossoming out of the 140 canvases document the search for space at the edge of the frame. An off frame Syria which is there, elsewhere; waiting to be explored, heard, seen, spoken.

Donatella Della Ratta

Enas Al Taweel - The Redhead Widow (2015)

Credits: Story

Project management
Donatella Della Ratta

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Donatella Della Ratta
Malu Halasa

Translation and editing
Rula Ali
Allaa Barri
Emma Cole
Sarah Cuminetti
Osama Esber
Pietro Valdatta

Art direction
Namyoung An

Marco Zanin

Marco Pavan

Rolita Ali - Cancel

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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