News / Arts & Entertainment

Syrian Artist Shows Trauma of War in Charcoal Sketches

Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke stands near his artwork during an exhibition at a gallery in Beirut, Jan. 6, 2014.
Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke stands near his artwork during an exhibition at a gallery in Beirut, Jan. 6, 2014.
Reuters
A woman curls up in grief in a darkened room - an artist's image as powerful as any of the thousands of photos and videos from Syria's civil war flashing across the world's computer and television screens.

The sketch is the work of 63-year-old painter and illustrator Youssef Abdelke, who stayed on in his Damascus studio as scores of his contemporaries left to escape a conflict approaching its fourth year.

While activists and state journalists are out on the front line recording every shell blast and clash, silver-haired Abdelke has found his own more personal way of reporting on the hardships of fellow Syrians, using charcoal and paper.

"I think all the works in one way or another try to express the concerns and emotions of the ordinary Syrian citizen amid this huge river of blood," he told Reuters at a gallery in Beirut where dozens of his works were on display.

Many of them focus on small, intimate moments, rather than trying to make sweeping statements about a civil war that has killed 130,000 people, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole districts of Syrian cities.

The grieving woman bends over a portrait of her dead son.

A teapot rests on a chessboard, both common objects in many Syrian households. Two tea glasses nearby are splattered with red paint, as if they are bleeding from gunshot wounds.

"We need years and years of contemplation and work to arrive at the moment where one can touch the huge amount of tragedies.

The killing and destruction is greater than one can easily absorb," said Abdelke, a prominent name on the Syrian art scene. "Right now we're in the heart of the storm, so it's very hard for one to see the true cultural effects in creative, artistic production."

"An Open-ended Crisis"

Abdelke has not shied away from taking on the authorities in the past.

This month's exhibition is his first in Lebanon since he was imprisoned in Syria for a month last summer after signing a declaration demanding the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.

He was also held as a political prisoner from 1978 to 1980 under the three-decade rule of Assad's father Hafez al-Assad, and only returned to Damascus in 2005 from exile in France.

Artworks by Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke are displayed at a gallery in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 6, 2014. (Click to enlarge)Artworks by Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke are displayed at a gallery in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 6, 2014. (Click to enlarge)
x
Artworks by Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke are displayed at a gallery in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 6, 2014. (Click to enlarge)
Artworks by Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke are displayed at a gallery in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 6, 2014. (Click to enlarge)
​But many of the new works are abstract rather than overtly political.

A nail drives through a human heart. A knife cuts through a loose bouquet of flowers.

"The whole situation is an open-ended crisis," said Abdelke. "It affects all civilians, even those who consider themselves outside of the conflict."

Other Syrian artists have set up shop in Lebanon and Gulf Arab states, securing shows in boutique galleries in London, Paris and New York and fuelling growing international interest in the country's contemporary art.

Abdelke has also been touring the Middle East with his work. But he always returns, doggedly, to his base in Damascus.

Inside Syria, while art schools are still functioning and a few dozen artists keep up residences, Abdelke says exhibitions have become nearly impossible.

Cultural events like gallery openings and lectures are disappearing as routine violence overtakes much of the country, even the heart of the once safe capital.

"Exhibiting itself is very difficult," he said. "And it doesn't have any meaning because nobody comes."

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures