On April 16th, Samer Kozah Gallery (Damascus) curated a group exhibition of Syrian artists titled “The Last Supper” at The Venue Gallery in Beirut Souks (Down Town). Featuring 56 artworks by 56 emerging and established artists depicting their perspectives of the masterpiece and its story that carries contradictions of facts and fiction in the view of our recent times and sophisticated events witnessed in the Middle East especially Syria.
The intersection of religion and politics in the purpose of powering mankind has always been the cause and motivator of war and endless conflicts in the history of Man… Yet the details of such conflicts will always remain discreet, only time reveals it with stories, that are filtered in accordance of the ones in power preferences who later on dictate what should be told to later generation, forming what we all know as history.
The original Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci represents the scene of The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, as it is told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. Leonardo has depicted the consternation that occurred among theTwelve Disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. (source)
Back to the 2014 exhibition… Each artist presented a new version of The Last Supper, varied from modern to contemporary approaches in different forms of art: mix media, sculptures, photography, hyper realism, calligraphy, manuscript and video art. Some of the artists are based in Syria and had to deliver the artworks amid the difficult circumstances the country lives. Each participant was able to say one common message through the exhibition “art in Syria is alive regardless of everything!” Participating artists are:
Nazir Ismail, Edward Shahda, Mustafa Ali, Ghassan Nana, Hammoud Shantout, Jacob Ibrahim, Asaad Fazrat, Ghazi Aana, Ali Housein, Ala’ Abou Shaheen, Ahmad Abou Zeina, Fadi Alaweed, Juhayda Albitar, Fadi Alhamwi, Tania Alkayyal, Doha Alkhateeb, Alice AlKhatib, Ali Alsheikh, Ronak Ahmed, Akil Ahmad, Kinda Arshid, Mayssa Aweeda, Aamer Ayoub, Khadija Baker, Issa Dib, Lama Hajjar, Ala’ Hamameh, Ammar Khaled Aldasouki, Louna Hamad, Souzan Hamedi, Amjad Hashem, Rana Hatmal, Fadi Helwani, Dima Homush, Anas Homsi, Omar Ibrahim, Nouman Issa, Rasha Jabr, Badei Jahjah, Amani Jarboue, Nour Kalash, Issa Kazah, Khalil Kiki, Yazen Maksoud, Ayham Malisho, Shaza Midani, Fadi Morabet, Osama Moualla, Abdalla Omari, Sarab Safadi, Abdul Razzak Shabalout, Alaa Sharabi, Housein Tarabei, Obaideh Zorik, Yamen Yousef and Momtaz Shoaib.
No doubt, it is a huge show in terms of quantity of works exhibited and time invested in curating it, and because of the huge number of artwork, the level of it was varied between good to extraordinary! In fact, when you are invited to an exhibition based on one of the legendary artworks, you expect to see something different than “The Last Supper” or recreation of the initial concept that is not necessarily direct, a work that reflects deep researches and attempts to finally produce an innovative “Last Supper”. This was my criteria when I saw the exhibition and four artworks caught my eyes, but this doesn’t underestimate or value other pieces, remember art is a matter of personal preferences and can not be neutral!
Fadi Alaweed completely transformed the historical christian masterpiece into what seems to be an islamic miniature, with arabic calligraphies: poems and what seems to be scripts and quotes. Depicting 12 men, five gathered under a roof facing the table, eight men standing in front of it, who seem to be the disciples. And one boy standing on the left side of the table as the servant.
The scene is surrounded with arabic poetry or quotes, for example the header of the roof says “Oh sommelier pour and hand me the glass” what seems to be a sign of how Arabs used to be enormously open to things religion classified them as sin. Yet on the other side of the miniature, there is another message yet it opposes the first one, on the left side of the painting it says “They Left Granted Knowledge & Wisdom To Be Satisfied With Evanescent Propositions of Finite Life. May They Fall In The Real Ego Quest With Desires & Fighting Temptations”. These messages reflects one’s endless inner conflicts effected by external pressures of his eagerness vs dictated requirements.
Artist Alice AlKhatib presented the only sculpture that didn’t look like The Last Supper! A bronze wrinkled coffin engraved with hand imprints couple of them are Victory Sign. This painful work reflects the destructive situation, or shall I say the certain outcome of war which is death… Because it displays The Last Supper, it may refer to wars & disputes based on religious purposes that we witness all over: genocide in Rwanda, Myanmar and of course the ongoing conflict in Syria… Yes it is under the name of religion but is it really religious?
This artwork rises many questions: What (or who) has the final say? Is it worth destroying your nation where hate among its people is born later on? Millions of dreams of Freedom, Peace, Equality, Superiority are buried with its believers – whether dead fighters or survived ones – because of many so called leaders, politicians and religious men, betrayal! Certainly, Alkhatib pictured the ugly truth in her sculpture…
Omar Ibrahim looked at The Last Supper from another dimension, minimizing the characters from 12 to three: A Man, Woman and chopped head of Bull. Ibrahim refers to the Woman as Mary Magdalene sitting next to Jesus, who also replaces John one of the disciples. Whereas the chopped Bull – or creature as he explained in statement – covered with blood is Judah, and the 10 legs of the rounded table are the 10 disciples.
In his statement, Ibrahim considers his unlimited to religious interpretations although the explained symbols. It can be any last supper between two, a man & a woman aware that they are sharing their last moments together. This artwork depicts separation, sadness and betrayal of commitment and dreams.
And last but not least… Yamen Yousef
Another minimal symbolic artwork is by Yaman Yousef: A Head on a tray and a fish… That’s not it! The Head belongs to Jesus, clearly from the thorns thorn on it and the halo surrounding it. While the fish,,, well that’s a long story. In Christianity, Fish stands for Good, and back in Roman Empire christians secretly used the symbol of fish to identify themselves as it was a forbidden religion, which mean it was adopted as Christian symbol before the famous Cross which was imposed during The Crusades.
It is said the many of the 12 Disciples were fishermen, which perhaps this is what the Fish here represents. The slightly strong red strip behind the fish is sign of betrayal and pain caused by it is the sculpted scars on the Fish. If you look clearly at the Head, the left eye is replaced with flower: kindness, innocence?! Or Naiveness?! Usually these are characteristics of brainwashed people and also the betrayed ones. Yousef is one of the few artists who portrays an artwork open to viewer’s understanding, personal perspective and triggers their curiosity and desire to go back home and research… Well, at least that happened to me!
That being said… The exhibition unfortunately ended few days ago yet definitely it was one of the best shows put together I have been to and wish it can be exhibited in other countries or occasions – or perhaps a show at a museum! There are more photos of “The Last Supper” which can be viewed at Al Mahha Art Facebook page.