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 Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

Avery Sunshine is known for her irresistible combination of soul, jazz and gospel influences. She’s traveled the world entertaining audiences with her powerful voice, inspiring lyrics and infectious spirit. She joins host Shawna Renee on "The Soul Lounge" to perform and share the stories behind her new album, "The Sun Room."