By Carolina Montenegro
For the inaugural piece of “From Sham with Love” I talked to Tammam Azzam, a brilliant young Syrian artist, 35, whose work became viral in the internet in 2013. Azzam created this digital collage of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” over a photo of a building in ruins in Aleppo we decided to use as a back image here in our blog and in Facebook.
It resembles an impossible graffiti work that could have been done in the middle of the Syrian war. And it puts love in the most unlikely place: a war. It is a strong, beautiful and sad image that spoke to millions of people worldwide. They were moved, they shared the image, they protested. Two years later, the war in Syria is completing four years. A strange evidence showing that reality can be more surreal than art when it comes to war.
Azzam had his life and his career overrun by the Syrian revolution. He was a painter in Damascus when the protests turned into violence and later a civil war. Afraid of being recruited by the Army, he fled to Dubai in 2011 and lives there since with his wife and daughter.
It is the second time I interview Azzam and I remember exactly he telling me that every day he woke up missing Syria hoping to go back home. Now, a couple of years later, he keeps creating, even with hopes fading. “Where to go back? It is just a disaster now in Syria”, he said.
FSWL – How war affected your work?
Tammam Azzam – It was not a decision, it is something normal to be affected and to be involved with the atmosphere. To be completely isolate is difficult. I don’t think you need to do something direct, but I think the atmosphere around us make us another person. But it is not necessary to include war or destruction elements in the artwork, but in the end you can find many changes in Syrian art in the last four years.
FSWL – What do you want with your art?
TA – I don’t want to send direct messages with my work, but when the audience reads it is another step. When you make art it is not your decision to judge it or to talk about it. It is not my mission to teach people. I want to make art. This is me. The most important thing to me is to do an artwork in itself.
FSWL – Art can change the conflict in Syria?
TA – Now, no way. But still it is a step for the future, if we have a close future then art and education will make sense always.
FSWL – Do you think it could also register what is happening in Syria for History in the future, due to the lack of international media coverage?
TA – I don’t know. This is not the purpose of art. If history will record it or not in the future, I hope for sure.
FSWL – How Syrian artists’ lives were changed by the war?
TA – It is very difficult for us and especially for those that are still there in Syria because there is no market, no materials, no media, no capacity to do art in this mess. So, some moved to Beirut, to Turkey, to Europe, they are everywhere now.
The Syria revolution made all the difference to us. The world and the media want to know everything about Syria now. About art, culture, novels, everything that come from Syria. Now there are thousands of paintings or works that are not art but something like art that talk about what is happening Syria but you can’t judge them all as art or great art.
FSWL – Living abroad Syria has changed your work?
TA – Yes, for sure. That was the reason why I changed techniques at first when I arrived in Dubai. I had no studio, no materials. I decided to do art with the computer that made a huge difference to my work. Before in Syria I painted. Now, I’m back to painting, I did 20 paintings already for my next show next year here in Dubai. In some way this work also is related to the Syrian war.
I can’t say I’m happy to go back to painting. It is still difficult, because I stopped the previous series I was doing when I was in Syria and had to move and then I started doing digital art. I now should find a new site for my painting what is not easy.
FSWL – Are Syrian artists getting together to collaborate, to organize for exhibitions and projects?
TA – It is not easy for us to launch a project, but when we get invitations from societies and organizations that have the budgets, yes we do a lot. Like last year in Germany and France and Italy. As artists we can’t do a lot by ourselves, because it needs a lot of money. A lot of Syrian artists did their own Facebook page or blog but not big projects about art.
FSWL – So funding is the biggest challenge Syrian artists are facing today?
TA – Happiness. Happiness is the biggest challenge. It is not easy to think that you can’t be happy inside yourself anymore. And it is not just you, but hundreds and thousands surrounding you.
FSWL – Do you think most part of Syrians and artists would like to go back to Syria?
TA – Before yes, now no. A lot of them lost their homes and members of their families. Where to go back? It is just a disaster now in Syria. Now it is not anymore about the revolution, it is about politics. After four years, ISIS, Assad attacks, many jihadists groups inside Syria from everywhere, so what to expect now?
FSWL – Then, you are not optimistic about the end of the conflict?
TA – It became worst and worst and worst. And I’m just an artist. Now I’m living here in Dubai. I hope it is not forever. I don’t know where to go. A lot of artists hope to go to Europe, but is becoming impossible to get a visa, even to the Gulf countries or Egypt. And it takes forever to request asylum and in the end they take something like a 100 people from Syria. Most part of refugees now can’t even get education, they are out of school. I hope things can get better for them. It is a very very hard situation.
His profile is also here at our ARTISTS corner.