When I got an invitation to attend Tammam Azzam’s solo exhibition at Ayyam Art Center (Dubai) I knew I had to make it for this show, but what I wasn’t expecting is how the exhibition turned out! Utilizing the entire space to exhibit over 50 artworks, ‘Syria’ felt like a live documentation of Syria Revolution and behind each artwork a story to tell, feelings and thoughts to share and a hurtful truth Azzam knew he had to spread around the world. Azzam shares with Al Mahha readers how the revolution effected his art, why he doesn’t want to be described as ‘revolution artist’ and the untold stories about ‘Syria’…
If you want to spread a cause… Generalize it!
Al Mahha (AM): How did the entire idea begin?
Tammam Azzam (TA): When I moved from Damascus to Dubai, the first artwork I did was ‘Syria Bleeding’ based on ‘Laundry’ series while I didn’t have a studio, I found myself hanging Syria map and finished a very direct realism work which was a turning point in my life… Later on I was certain I don’t want to link it to any previous work and I am only concerned in the situation in Syria until it is over.
AM: Does it mean your previous works are not related to Syria?
TA: They are more about individuals, the marks one leaves behind. In other words, they reflect the unseen marks. What I am trying to cascade now is the obvious marks of what is happening in Syria; the dead bodies, innocent victims, destroyed homes and places… etc. It is all marks, yet on a bigger scale.
AM: Talk to us about the exhibition and featured artworks…
TA: The exhibition is divided into three themes: ‘Syrian Museum’, ‘Syria Revolution Places’ where I choose only 33 from 100 other artworks and ‘Syria Uprising’. In ‘Syria Uprising’ I transferred from realism to symbolism: as we mentioned you see Syria’s map stained in blood which is a very direct message about the bloodshed in Syria, or two kids pointing at red Syria in ‘We Were Here’. As work started developing I found the more I symbolize it the more people it will reach. Take The flowery bomb in ‘Syrian Next Spring’ and butterfly in ‘Syrian Spring’ as an example; both carry what is going in Syria yet depict a common humanity state of optimism and believe on a better tomorrow. Same applies on ‘Refugee Camp’ pictures a fly and camps in the back, reflecting the dirt and miserable conditions of any refugee camps notably for fleeing Syrians to other countries…
I realize if you want to spread a cause, generalize it! I felt the message of humanity & Syria I want to spread became more mass because I didn’t limit it with a region or nation, instead I used international symbol to grab wider attention thus pass the message of Syria to bigger audience indirectly.
AM: Speaking of ‘Syrian Museum’ what is the concept behind it?
TA: As work develops by itself it takes a different direction on a later stage. Artworks in ‘Syrian Museum’ questions the honesty of International Community in humanity and Syria specifically! For example the Francisco Goya artwork; there is a huge international interest for a masterpiece about one massacre in the history of Spain, whereas in Syria everyday dozens of massacres are committed, hundreds are killed but it doesn’t seem to have same attention as an artwork done last century!
The entire thing started with ‘Mona Lisa’ artwork. She (Mona Lisa) is a mesmerizing mysterious masterpiece; what is happening in Syria and the way the international community is reacting to it is also mysterious! No one is taking a series action or care less about the thousands killed since it all started; few are interested in the mysterious human situation in Syria yet people are still interested in the mystery behind ‘Mona Lisa’.
What I am questioning is how come a real situation of death and destruction doesn’t have the same instant attention as an art piece?! I would like to make one thing clear is the photographs behind some artworks are real images of destruction in Syria, all in Facebook page called ‘The Lens of Homsi Man’. I asked to use them, and they approved.
AM: There is an artwork very popular on social media ‘Statue of Liberty’ but you didn’t exhibit it, why is that?
TA: Statue of Liberty got over 35K shares through social media and across other websites, with each share I pass multi messages indirectly linked all to Syria: some people explain it as an anti-policies of the United States, others say Syrians will get their freedom -symbolized in Statue of Liberty- from destruction. The more people talk about it, the more aware they are on Syria and humanity. However, because it is the only sarcastic artwork, I didn’t exhibit it.
AM: Can you explain to us the idea of ‘Syrian Revolution Places’?
TA: It is based on a Facebook page I established last year. Everyday we discover cities and villages the regime is destroying but we never heard of them, and when you look them up the results amaze you! I don’t exaggerate if I say that every city and village in Syria has a rich various culture, heritage and history, but now these places are rich with heroes and martyrs who sacrifice for our country.
The shameful part is some of these places are few miles away from my hometown but never heard of any and never been to them, and now we all know about them after they are destroyed. I must admit the regime succeeded in devoting discrimination among people for years by labeling each one of us according to our home towns.
The idea of ‘Syrian Revolution Places’ is to document and archive heritage of cities & villages that are being targeted and demolished, by collecting information then highlight a landmark to produce the artwork. I didn’t want to associate the Facebook page to me or anyone else, because the main aim is to grab a worldwide and national attention on what is left of Syrian places.
AM: At the end of Syrian Revolution Places hall there is a video art and a painting of rockets, can you tell us more about it?
TA: It is a new work called ‘Truce’ features 3 rockets, each one has number of deaths during the ‘so-called’ truce in Eid al Adha. The video was not done by me to be honest; an anonymous Syrian guy did it in Syria, sent me the link after I posted ‘Truce’ and I loved it! I asked to show it in the exhibition, he agreed and said to exhibit it under the name of ‘Shabab Min Al Dakhl (The Young Insiders)’. It took him 5 hours to send me a High Resolution file due to the horrible internet connection in Syria, just to share something he believed in and didn’t see because he is in Syria and the exhibition is in UAE…
AM: Why did you shift your method and used Digital Art instead of painting?!
TA: All recent revolutions happened and developed in a blink of eye with the help of internet and new technologies. Therefore you need a mass, rapid method to achieve an idea through art and that’s why I use Digital Art; it helps me finish an artwork carrying message, idea, feeling I have faster than a painting.
Not A Revolution Artist
AM: Were you worried people will feel distracted with the quantity of artworks?
TA: No .. because they fall under one theme. can not be divided & I hope there won’t be ‘Syria II’. Frankly when it all started one year ago I didn’t think of doing an exhibition.. I felt it is unsuitable to think about it while people are dying everyday in my country and I am concerned in the happenings, the revolution not an exhibition or show. Later on I realized the importance of having the exhibition, the awareness and buzz each creates when I post an artwork on the internet.
AM: You might find this rude but lots of artists adopt the revolution theme and produced many artworks related to it. Are you worried to be labeled as the revolution artist or became famous from Syria Revolution?
TA: It is not a rude question, on the contrary! Let me put it this way, from an ‘Art’ point of view, I am paying a price because I stopped painting and won’t paint until the revolution is over.. I shift from the track I was in and dedicated myself for this case. I want to share everything I feel and think through art. It is the most fulfilling way to communicate what’s inside me. Some people use writings to express and I find myself in art; It reflects my grief and sadness on whats going on in my country.
I am not the ‘Revolution’ artist, I was an artist before Syrian Revolution which changed me when it happened and changed the entire world, and I refuse anyone to link him or herself as a ‘Revolution’ artist or writer or whatever, because it is wider and deeper than all that show off.
AM: What about falling in the trap of repetition?
TA: Do you feel there is anything repetitive?! I don’t produce artworks to exhibit or show off. When I did ‘Mona Lisa’ I didn’t have in mind I will reach here. I don’t want people to criticize the artistic value of the work, because what matters to me the most is the humanity value and spreading it out, and this doesn’t mean I underestimate the work itself that’s why I work on high techniques to achieve each piece.
I told my 5 years old daughter that I am dedicated to cascade the sufferings of her fellow Syrian sisters, and frankly if the price is to lose myself as an artist because of the revolution, so be it! Because all I want to do now is document what is going on the ground and people sacrificing for freedom. Will see what happens later once this is over.
AM: Many artists don’t share all their artworks before their show fearing people won’t show up because they ‘seen it all’. Whereas you post every work, many were not even exhibited and attendance for ‘Syria’ was huge, how you explain that …
TA: I was very pleased with the number of people who came for the exhibition because they didn’t come to see the works they already know, but they came to take part of a happening called ‘Syria’, they were here to assure they support for humanity.
AM: I can say the revolution inspired you both in bad and good way?!
TA: of course! ‘The Scream by Edvard Munch’ artwork reflects the reaction we all want to do in Syria. However, I am not adding anything to the Revolution; it gave us all something priceless, humanity. If I have a problem it is with the ones who take revolution for granted and promote for themselves through it… Stop being selfish and open your eyes for the massacre and violation against humanity!
That being said… ‘Syria’ by Tammam Azzam is running until December 31 at Ayyam Art Center, don’t miss it if you still didn’t see it.