News / Arts & Entertainment

Mideast Artists Demand Syrian Painter's Freedom

FILE - Syrian painter Youssef Abdelke in front of one of his works at his atelier, Damascus, Sept. 23, 2010.
FILE - Syrian painter Youssef Abdelke in front of one of his works at his atelier, Damascus, Sept. 23, 2010.
Reuters
Artists across the Middle East and beyond have demanded that Syria free painter and illustrator Youssef Abdelke, who has long defied state control by depicting the horrors of dictatorship and refused to flee his country's civil war.
 
Syrian security forces arrested 62-year-old Abdelke and two colleagues last week after he signed a declaration calling for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, joining thousands of peaceful activists rounded up since an uprising erupted nearly two-and-a-half years ago.
 
Abdelke is one of the most prominent among a generation of Syrian artists attracting international attention during a wider renaissance of Middle Eastern art. Uprisings across the Arab world have boosted interest in the themes of repression and social turmoil which he has explored for decades.
 
"One cannot but deplore and condemn the arrest of Youssef Abdelke and his two comrades. This mentality, which treats the holder of an opinion as a criminal, has damaged Arab humanity and culture," Adonis, a fellow Syrian who is the Arab world's leading modernist poet, told Reuters.
 
Among the 70 signatories to the declaration, Abdelke was one of only two not in exile or in hiding in Syria, where 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war that grew from a military crackdown on protests against Assad's rule.
 
Silver-haired and pony-tailed, Abdelke has himself campaigned for decades for the release of political prisoners. He rejected the option of living permanently in the West, saying that if your home is on fire, you stay to put out the flames.
 
Abdelke's most famous work is a 1989-1995 series of etchings of Arab military rulers, depicting vainglorious generals surrounded by squalor.
 
He spent two years in jail as a political prisoner under Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, and returned to Damascus eight years ago from exile in France to work at his studio in an old courtyard house.
 
He was arrested last Thursday near the Mediterranean town of Tartous, his wife Hala Abdallah said. He was detained along with two members of the centrist National Coordination Assembly for Democratic Change, a group formed after the uprising which advocates peaceful political transition.
 
Their detention follows the arrest last September of another member of the group, Adelaziz al-Khair, who had already spent 13 years as a political prisoner. Khair, a physician and a member of Assad's minority Alawite sect, has not been heard of since.
 
During the revolt Abdelke said the incarceration of peaceful campaigners showed what he called the nobility of the uprising.
 
Asked why her husband had not tried to flee the country as Assad's crackdown on the non-violent opposition intensified, Abdallah said: "Youssef had made a decision to resist having to leave Syria again."
 
"He refused to seek French citizenship when he was in France," she told Reuters. "He used to say that if someone sees a fire in his house he will try to extinguish it, not run away."
 
The declaration Abdeleke signed said Assad and his top lieutenants had to leave power for a political solution that preserves Syria as a whole. "The corrupt tyrannical system which controlled the fate of Syria for the last 40 years solely bears responsibility for the tragic events the country is living through. The salvation of Syria lies in the downfall of the regime with its all of symbols," it said.
 
'Spirit of the homeland'
 
Since Abdelke was seized, more than 700 writers, artists, actors, academics and journalists from the Middle East and beyond have signed a petition demanding his release. "Stop imprisoning the spirit of the homeland," it said.
 
Leading Iraqi artist Serwan Baran, who also signed the petition, said: "Youssef Abdelke is a seminal figure. The Syrian regime cannot be allowed to arrest these symbols."
 
Lebanese painter Ayman Baalbaki, a top name among a younger generation of Arab artists, paid tribute to Abdelke. "He has influenced my generation and the generation that preceded me, not just through his art, but also his stubbornness in his defense of liberty and loyalty to his ideas," Baalbaki said.
 
Abdelke was also imprisoned from 1978 to 1980 and lived in France for 24 years before returning home. In the last few years, he had been banned from travelling.
 
His 2005 charcoal drawing, "Elegy to the 1970s generation" referred to leftist Syrian national figures, writers and artists who came of age in the decade and were later crushed. In it, Abdelke portrayed a giant severed forearm with a clenched fist signifying defiance in face of repression.
 
Among his first pieces on the revolt was "Martyr from Deraa," a large charcoal work showing the body of a young demonstrator dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and lying on his back while bleeding from a bullet wound to his forehead.
 
Another work depicted a butterfly facing a knife lodged in a surface, an apparent symbol of the peaceful nature of the revolt before Assad's crackdown provoked an armed insurgency.

You May Like

Photogallery Kyiv: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Weeki
X
August 29, 2014 2:18 AM
The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Pianist Myra Melford’s new CD “Life Carries Me This Way” features solo piano interpretations of drawings by modern artist Don Reich. She performs songs from the album, talks about turning art into music, and joins host Eric Felten in some Chicago boogie-woogie on "Beyond Category."