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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.