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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.