Cynicism and Sorrow in Syrian Art After the Uprising

By Maymanah Farhat
Submitted to Session P4933 (Art and Mediation: Affective and Socio-political Practices of Revolutionary Challenges, 2017 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Cultural Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Six years into the Syrian war, and the Damascus art scene has been brought to a complete standstill. Few artists remain in Syria, while most gallerists, curators, and writers are based outside. In the first year of the conflict, artists responded to the initial political protests and the Assad regime’s violent response with an outpouring of creativity, notably in the form of political posters, digital images circulated on social media, and experimental videos shared online. Some artists signed their works, and were forced into exile almost immediately, while others worked anonymously or with pseudonyms. Those working in traditional media like painting or sculpture were equally affected by political events and responded by altering their subject matter or incorporating new forms.

Displacement and mass migration due to the war not only dissolved the artistic circles of Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus but also dramatically changed the Beirut and Dubai art scenes. This late into the conflict, the borders of the Syrian art scene have shifted once again, as an unprecedented number of artists now live and work in Europe.

What is the current state of Syrian art? How are artists grappling with a war that seems to have no end in sight? Is the revolutionary fervor of the early days of Syria’s creative uprising still a driving force, or has it faded into cynicism and sorrow? Do digital media and political art still hold the world’s attention, or has the graphic nature of news from Syria made these forms ineffective? Has the war changed how art is produced, why it’s produced, or for whom it’s created? What are the creative challenges that displaced artists face? How are the few that remain in Syria speaking to a wider audience?

Examining the recent works (and exhibits) of nearly a dozen artists, this paper will detail how the Syrian art scene now faces a different type of crisis, as artists, writers, curators, and gallerists question the social (and political) relevance of art in times of war.