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This is the publication we made for the art exhibition "Culture in Defiance: Continuing Traditions of Satire, Art and the Struggle for Freedom in Syria", at Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Herengracht 603, Amsterdam.
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P r i n c e C l au s F u n d G a l l e ry C Continuing u u lt reexhibition traditions of Satire, Curators Malu Halasa, Aram Tahhan, Leen Zyiad, Donatella Della Ratta Art in and the strugglep u b l i c at i o n for defia Freedom nce in Syria 0 4 j u n e — 2 3 n ov e m b e r 2 0 1 2
lauGHter, beauty and Human reSolveimagine leaving your home on a moment’s notice reaction to the regime and as a tribute to thewith some clothes, a few sketches and a cd fi lled courage of the protestors who have been riskingwith a handful of the 20,000 political cartoons their lives.you had drawn over the past 50 years. in 2011, theSyrian cartoonist ali ferzat left damascus under 60 amer mattar visits the artists’ collective art andsimilar circumstances. after he recuperated from freedom and contributes a piece on freedombeing badly attacked and having his hands broken, Graffi ti Week Syria, alongside the photographerhis family felt his life was in danger and urged him 26 and street art specialist pascal Zoghbi. visual critic 3to fl ee. ferzat, a 2002 prince claus fund laureate, 10 donatella della ratta examines user-generatedjoined the thousands of other Syrians who could creativity in the ‘raised hands’ campaign and artistno longer remain in their country due to the 16 Khalil younes explains the infl uence of Goya in his 78violence of the regime. the more than yearlong depictions of the revolution. in a moving essay,uprising against the dictatorship of bashar al- 22 human rights lawyer razan Zaitouneh countsassad has left countless people homeless either 9 bodies – literally – while novelist rafi k Schamias refugees or political exiles. ponders death by facebook.for those of us who have had the opportunity of in this issue, we also showcase impressive creativeworking, researching or spending time in Syria, writing – with literary nonfiction in the poeticand getting to know the people there, the current 20 memoir of the revolution by Samar yazbek, a chillingsituation remains untenable. the exhibition Culture account of when the shabiha (‘the thugs’) took over 66 Malu Halasa, Editor and co-curatorin Defi ance: Continuing Traditions of Satire, Art latakia by novelist rosa yassin Hassan, and Hamaand the Struggle for Freedom in Syria reveals an 73 under the assads by manhal alsarraj. there areincredible outburst of creative dissent under 38 insightful pronouncements on imprisonment and 5extreme duress. Some, like ferzat, started working 59 the simple pleasures of life, alongside the debut induring the long years of Hafez assad; others like english of the remarkable short story ‘first Safety 13masasit mati, the group who produces the cyber 56 manoeuvre’ by aram tahhan. like the hundreds ofpuppet plays Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator, Syrian artists and writers who produce their workonly last year. the exhibition features a wealth of about the revolution anonymously, both he andshort films, animations, popular songs, graffiti, art, leen Zyiad have been writing, editing and co-posters, and wise words from inspirational Syrians. curating under pseudonyms.our eponymous publication is less art catalogue nonviolent resistance and the power of cultureand more in-depth study on cultural rebellion are recurrent themes in this bilingual edition in 39in Syria. journalist leen Zyiad writes about arabic and english. So, how does one stand down‘revolution as carnival’ and the cities and villages dictatorship, mass killings, snipers and the deepin the country that have been singing, dancing depression of exile? to paraphrase the directorand performing for regime change in the bakhtinian jameel from Top Goon, who also always appearssense. a series of wide-ranging articles about masked in public, everything scary can be dealt47 52 32music, theatre, poster making and cell-phone 76 with through laughter, beauty and human resolve.cinema consider cultural production, both as a introduction
Culture in Defiance Culture Is a Basic Need Continuing Traditions of Satire, Art and the Struggle for Freedom in Syria Publication Exhibition The Prince Claus Fund was set up on 6 September 1996 as a tribute to Prince Claus’ dedication to culture and development. Editor Artists The Fund believes that culture is a basic need and the motor Malu Halasa Ali Ferzat of development. Ibrahim Qashoush Deputy Editor Omar Offendum The Prince Claus Fund’s mission is to actively seek cultural Aram Tahhan S ¸ivan Perwer collaborations founded on equality and trust, with partners of Samih Shukair excellence, in spaces where resources and opportunities for Commissioning Editor Strong Heroes of Moscow cultural expression, creative production and research are Leen Zyiad Wael Alkak limited and cultural heritage is threatened. Half Apple Assistant Editor Masasit Mati The Prince Claus Fund supports artists, critical thinkers and Lawrence Joffe Art and Freedom cultural organisations in spaces where freedom of cultural Freedom Graffiti Week Syria expression is restricted by conflict, poverty, repression, Contributors Pascal Zoghbi marginalisation or taboos. Annually, the Fund grants eleven Ali Ferzat Yasmeen Fanari Prince Claus Awards to individuals and organisations for their Amer Mattar La Chaise Renversée outstanding achievements in the field of culture and Bassem Taleb (Dani Abo Louh and development. The Fund also provides first aid to cultural Donatella Della Ratta Mohamad Omran) heritage damaged by man-made or natural disaster. Pascal Zoghbi Khaled Abdulwahed Samar Yazbek Khalil Younes In 15 years, the Fund has supported 1,600 cultural activities, Rosa Yassin Hassan Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh awarded 165 outstanding cultural practitioners and 1. 6 September 2011, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Prince Claus Fund Manhal Alsarraj Rafik Schami organisations, and provided cultural aid in over 90 Razan Zaitouneh Nizar Qabbani emergency situations. Rafik Schami Yara Bader Jamal al-Fatwa The Fund has built a diverse global network of excellent Photographers people, many of them role models in their own societies. This Fadi Zaidan Curators network of trust and mutual respect is the backbone of the Al-Sharee3 Group Malu Halasa Fund. Local partners and initiatives guide all the Fund’s work, Claude Giger Aram Tahhan following the conviction of Prince Claus that people are not David Stelfox Leen Zyiad being developed, but develop themselves. Donatella Della Ratta Translators According to Prince Constantijn, Honourary Chairman of the77 Ghias Aljundi Fund: “The Prince Claus Fund has sought to support culture Marina Khatibi and creative expression in people and communities; where Lila Sharkasi these meet with resistance. We used terms like the amnesty for Max Weiss culture; culture as a basic need; giving voice to the unheard in zones of silence. They are all expressions of the central idea Design that culture is what makes us human. Development without it www.byboth.com cannot be sustainable and is meaningless.4 In the end it is all about people; which is exactly why this Fund was so dear to my father. Colourful, brave and engaged people who stand up for their ideas; showing how rich the world is; and also how little we know and what potential goes to waste in many of the societies across the world due to oppression, conflict natural disaster and poverty.” 1 The Prince Claus Fund is financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Postcode Lottery and individual donations. Many individuals around the world contribute their expertise to the Fund. A special thanks to the Prince Claus Fund and Christa Meindersma, Fariba Derakshani, Dilara Jaring-Kanik and Keefe Cordeiro; Scott C. Davis and Cune Press; Fadi Haddad and the Mosaic Initiative for Syria; Dan Gorman, Eleanor Kilroy and Reel Syria; Duncan Ballantyne; Don Karl Herengracht 603 and From Here to Fame Publishing; Jenny Haege and 1017 CE Amsterdam Haus Publishing; Huda Smitshuijzen Abifares and the t +31 (0)20 344 91 60 Khatt Foundation; Amargi (Assembly of Syrian Artists and f +31 (0)20 344 91 66 Creatives for Freedom); Eugenie Dolberg and Olivia Snaije www.princeclausfund.org Unless stated otherwise, copyright for text and images rests with the individual authors, artists, photographers and translators. The views and opinions expressed in the publication and exhibition Culture in Defiance: Continuing Traditions of Satire, Art and the Search for Freedom in Syria are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Prince Claus Fund.
IN Ali HIS Ferzat 5 OWN 76 On art , censorship, freedom and t h e r evo l u t i o n i n Sy r i aW ORD S
A l i f e r z at I think I was five when I started drawing cartoons produces an idea, but if that artist is not living and making up satirical stories about what was within his own community and going through what taking place in my own house. I didn’t choose to the people there are going through, then how could be a caricaturist. I was born like this. When I was he understand what’s going on and reflect it? To twelve years old, I had my first cartoon published be a good artist or painter, you have to express in Al Ayyam (‘The Days’). The owner had no idea the feelings and experiences of the people. Art is I was only in the sixth grade! all about living with your own people, and having a vision about what they need as well. You can’t My cartoons touch on people’s lives, and people sit in your own room isolated behind your window trust them. They became like a lantern that people and draw about life. It doesn’t work like that. look to. My caricatures were devoid of speech and used symbols, and because of that I could survive The concept of red lines depends on the culture censorship in my country and publish some of and the level of civil liberties achieved in a country. them freely. This approach also gave my work an Europe and America are definitely different from international appeal since it relied on images the Middle East. Freedom of the press should imply anyone could understand – without the barrier of a responsibility rather than something undertaken language intervening. So while I was trying to chaotically. It’s not like I do whatever I feel like avoid censorship at home, I unintentionally gave doing at whatever moment I feel like doing it, my cartoons wings that made them fly off to the regardless of the consequences. It is a matter of rest of the world. In this way I managed to get the moral commitment. It’s relative; you always have voice of the people inside Syria to the international to find the right balance. Some newspapers refrain community, basically through shared channels of human interest. My early cartoons showed actions and behaviour I a m h u m b l e d by based around a general theme, like hunger. Little t h e c u lt u r e75 by little my cartoons became very popular and people bought the newspapers for the cartoons. and heart From the early to late 1970s, I published a daily editorial cartoon in the official newspaper Al Thawra of people who cannot (‘Revolution’). Sometimes the managing editor failed to understand the symbolism in the cartoon, draw or write but6 and after it was published, he would get a shouting who are sacrificing phone call from the government. So a new procedure was put in place. First, the editor in chief had to t h e i r l i ve s f o r look at the cartoon. If he approved it, he had to send it to the general manager of the newspaper. freedom Whether or not he approved it, or found it too controversial or difficult to understand, he had to send it to the minister of information [in charge of media]. At that time, the minister was a bit of an from nothing and call it ‘freedom’, while other ass, and he would say ‘yes’ because he didn’t newspapers even censor human interest stories. I understand it. The next day people saw the cartoon see both as bad. Too much suppression in the name and immediately comprehended its meaning of commitment is not good, but by the same token because it was just a matter of common sense. Then too much unethical commitment in the name of the angry phone calls would start all over again. freedom is not wise either. They are both the same. One time, the general manager sat for a long time At the beginning of Bashar al-Assad’s presidency, contemplating one of my cartoons, unable to I used to communicate directly with him beyond detect exactly why he should censor it. But he felt the control of the mukhabarat, the secret police, he needed to, simply because he didn’t trust it, and I was happy about that. I tried to get him to so he looked at me and said, “Just promise, swear meet other artists. I remember when he first to God, there is nothing bad in this.” In 1980, I had walked into my exhibition at a cultural centre – a a meeting with a former prime minister who said, tall dude with a large entourage. He asked me how “Can we give you a salary so that you will stay and he could access what the people were thinking do nothing. Your cartoons undo all of our work on and I told him to just talk to them. When he asked the first page.” me what my plans were for the future, I said I was going to start a satirical newspaper and wanted For me, drawing is a means to an end and not a to tackle every aspect of the government. He said purpose by itself. The artist is always the one who I might as well go after the parliament as well.
Cartoons by Ali Ferzat 7 74i n h i s ow n wo r d s
A l i f e r z at When the Ba’ath Party initially came to power corruption anymore. Admittedly, it was nearly in 1963, it closed all private and independent suicidal to draw someone who is considered a newspapers and publications. My newspaper, god-like figure for the regime and the Ba’ath party. A l D ou ma ri ( ‘ L a m p lig h te r ’ ), wa s t h e f i r s t independent newspaper in nearly twenty years. As a cartoonist, it is not my position to discuss One of our themes was corruption. A scandal had politics, but we have been explaining our cause and erupted with IV serums because they were out of bleeding for over a year. We will be bleeding and date and yet they were still being used in a hospital explaining our cause for the next ten years. I haven’t in Damascus. So I drew serum bags filled with fish. seen the British, Dutch or French demonstratingAli Ferzat was in conversation with Malu Halasa. The newspaper was allowed to publish for two against what’s happening in Syria in the way they years and three months exactly. Then it was demonstrated against the Vietnam War. It is a banned. During this period, there were two massacre and I am upset by the world’s silence. attempts to arrest me and 32 cases were filed against the newspaper in the courts. Pro-Ba’ath When I was living in Damascus, the US ambassador students demonstrated in front of the offices of and other officials visited me and asked the A Pen of Damascus Steel: Political Cartoons of an Arab Master by Ali Ferzat was published by Cune Press. A l D ou ma ri. P e o p l e we re p reve nte d f ro m following question: “We support the revolution, but advertising in it. By then, I was never able to reach do you know who the people in the streets are?” Bashar, and when I finally did get through, he told I told them, I don’t know them one by one but I do me to handle my own problems. Now we’re know their conscience. Every Friday is dedicated working on publishing a new Al Doumari outside to a theme. The first Friday was ‘No to sectarianism’. of Syria that will complement the coverage of the Then there was Azadi Friday, which means ‘freedom’ revolution from within. in Kurdish; Great (Good) Friday to acknowledge the Christians; ‘Free Women of Syria’ Friday and ‘The Syrian Revolution Is for Everyone’ Friday. Now we are seeing certain sides breaking these pledges of freedom, and there are conflicting sides within I h ave n ’ t s e e n t h e73 the anti-government opposition. Despite all that is B r i t i sh going on, I have a request: Don’t confuse the politics with the diplomacy. D u tc h After I was assaulted and my hands were broken, or French someone asked me: could I still find the courage8 demonstrating to draw? I told them I had been ashamed by the suffering of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib [whose a g a i n s t w h a t ’s body was badly mutilated, returned to his family happening in and prompted nationwide protests in Syria]. I am humbled by the culture and heart of people who Syria cannot draw or write but who are sacrificing their lives for freedom. It’s not about being well read, i n t h e w ay t h ey it’s about how you behave. I don’t want to soundTranslated from Arabic by Leen Zyiad demonstrated against extremist, but Syria is the birthplace of the world’s culture – your home before your home. It is where t h e V i e t n a m Wa r the alphabet was created. Has the revolution inspired me to draw more? Your enthusiasm to produce varies, according to how Breaking the barrier of fear you’re feeling psychologically – what’s going on Although my cartoons always used symbols to around you – and how well you are physically. focus on behavioural patterns and rarely portrayed I just started drawing after healing. Now my hands identifiable persons, three months before the are better and I’ve begun to come back. revolution began I wanted to help break the barrier of fear in the hearts of the people. I considered this to be my duty, as well. So I put on my website, “We have to break the barrier of fear that is 50 years old,” and I drew first Prime Minister Adel Safar; then [the wealthy businessman and cousin of Bashar] Rami Makhlouf; recognisable figures from the security apparatus and finally the president. It was a decision that took a lot of guts, but I felt it was time. No one could take their i n h i s ow n wo r d s
P e e r - c r e at i v i t y a n d The latest mash-ups, cartoons, slogans, jokes, songs and web series reveal a new dynamic between the ruler and the ruled. T71 o10 w a r d Written by Donatella Della Ratta s ac t i v e c i t iz e n sh i p in Syria u s e r - g e n e r at e d co n t e n t s
as images of violence, civil war and sectarian strife ‘nationalism’, as if all the Syrian people’s demandsbecome prominent in the media narrative of the would be exactly the same, and would coincideSyrian uprising, little gems of innovative cultural with those of the regime. in a way, the “i am withproduction, artistic resistance and creative the law” campaign switching to a generic “i am 1disobedience continue sprouting across the virtual with Syria” could have been a direct response toalleys of the internet. these creative gems – mash- that “i am not indian”, which invited the advertiserups, cartoons, slogans, jokes, songs and web series – and the ruler – to reframe the issue in the– are also the germs of a viral peer-production direction of a shared ‘Syrian’ common ground.process at work at a grassroots level in the newSyrian public sphere. from time to time they yet the new, more accommodating campaign,manage to find their way out of the internet registered another new wave of user-generatedoverfl ow and get noticed. responses over the internet, and not only in virtual spaces. armed with a marker and most probablybeginning weeks after the fi rst demonstration hit at night-time, some citizens took the courage tothe centre of damascus on 15 march 2011, an descend from the virtual alleys of facebook to theadvertising poster, which started as a regime real streets of Syria. they deleted the second halfbacked billboard campaign, took the unexpected of the slogan – “my demands are your demands”shape of a viral peer-produced work that is still – and changed it into “my demands are freedom”.being shared and re-manipulated by users aftermore than a year since its creation. the outdoor in conferences or public talks , these witty 2billboard campaign, clearly aiming at restoring examples of Syrian user-generated creativityorder in the streets and preventing people from usually elicit two different responses. the fi rstprotesting again, featured a raised hand declaring: praises this genre as the tangible signal that the“Whether progressive or conservative, i am with ‘fear wall’ has been broken and Syrians are nowthe law”; “Whether a girl or boy, i am with the law” able to express their opinions freely, hitting backand similar slogans, all matched with multi- the regime’s message with multi-sided messagescoloured, raised hands. at some point, with these of their own. the second, while admiring the 3coloured hands raised everywhere in public creativity behind this user-generated counter- 11spaces, cities had a sort of orwellian atmosphere campaign, dismisses it as too small and insignificant– ‘big brother’ was watching citizens and reminding to challenge the regime politically with only thethem to comply with the law. power of humour and satire. this second response 70 not only plays down the significance of user-Soon after, parodies of these posters started generated creativity in political terms; it alsomushrooming in cyberspace. depicting the very deems it irrelevant to counterbalance industriallysame raised, coloured hands, each virtual poster produced form of arts and culture, like tv fi ctioncarried a different slogan. “i am free,” said one (the well-known musalsalat – soap opera industry),raised hand on a facebook group. “i lost my whose regime-tolerated contents and messagesshoes,” said another, echoing the suggestion of are able to reach out to a wider audience moreshoes being thrown at the dictator, a customary than any viral campaign on the internet.way of protesting leadership in the arab world. “iam not indian,” joked another poster, being the in reality, the boom of user-generated content inironic answer to a regime that has exclusive control the Syrian uprising does tell us that Syrians areover the formal meaning of ‘law’ and ‘lawlessness’. reappropriating a creativity, which was long“i am not indian” was reaffi rming the ‘Syrianness’ monopolised by the regime and elite-drivenof citizens who weren’t going to be fooled by a cultural production. cultural forms of dissent havegovernment that was treating them as if they were long been engineered or allowed by the regime,foreigners in their own country. in what miriam cooke calls “commissioned 4 criticism”. the blossoming of this kind of peer-at some point, the creative directors of the production on the internet reveals that Syriansc a m p a ig n b e c a m e p ro b a b ly awa re of t h e enjoy a new relationship with creativity that is alsoproblematic usage of the word ‘law’ in Syria – and a new relationship with power and authority. thisof the ambiguous relationship between ruler and relationship now entails a feedback mechanism,ruled that it entailed – and released new billboards. which is well illustrated by the ‘raised hands’this time, the raised hand simply said: “i am with campaign, where the advertiser – and the ruler – isSyria.” the colours used where those of the Syrian obliged to modify the original message as a resultnational fl ag – red, white, black and green – and of the failure to communicate it or because of thethe slogan declared: “my demands are your miscommunication it had originated.demands.” it was probably safer, from the regime’sperspective, to try to win citizens’ hearts and on a strictly political level this might leadm in d s by a p p e a lin g to a g e n e ric fo rm of nowhere, if the ruler is not willing to take into
the boom in Wedeen’s analysis, jokes, caricatures, fi lms, tv serials, all these cultural resistance forms under o f u s e r- g e n e r a t e d Hafez assad, are successful because of “the viewer and the artists who have managed to speak to co n t e n t This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license. Please read the conditions before republishing it http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ each other across the boundaries of censorial i n t h e Sy r i a n prohibition and restraints”. on the contrary, user- generated creativity sprouting from the Syrian uprising does tell uprising is successful because it establishes a dialogue between citizens, a non-mediated one. u s t h a t Sy r i a n s a r e user-generated creativity does not need any reappropriating a approval to go through censorship, and it is not produced under the regime’s supervision nor c r e at i v i t y, engineered by any top-down strategy. it simply 6 which was long blossoms at a grassroots level and creates room for what yves Gonzales-Quijano calls “un dialogue m o n o p o l i s e d by t h e citoyen” (‘a citizen dialogue’). as critic ahmed ellabad puts it, when he describes the shock regime and elite provoked to professional content creators by this d r i ve n c u l t u r a l grassroots creativity: “revolution was the biggest outdoor exhibition the world has ever known. production. citizens competed to express their political ideas in a way that, to my view, will never be repeated… Some would create incredible slogans, others consideration the ruled’s opinions and feedback. would paint their bodies but the most important but on a social, cultural level, this reveals the kind thing is that all these propositions would fi nd of culture emerging from the Syrian uprising, people to watch them, to react to them, to discuss69 which the internet does not determine but helps with those who had created them.” to frame and allows to emerge. therefore, the fi rst job done by creative resistance and the new unlike cultural resistance under Hafez assad, user- emerging user-generated creativity is to put into generated and peer-produced creativities are bold relief the existence of this previously hidden effective not because they manage to bypass the or underground Syrian ‘remix culture’ that censors and create a connection between citizens12 lawrence lessig defines as the “read/write culture” as opposed to the “read only culture”. and artists. in the former case the connection between the two functions through the content 5 of the artwork; it exists because of it, and does the peer-produced raised hands going viral over not exist outside it. on the contrary, through user- the internet and sometimes even in the Syrian generated creativity a direct dialogue between streets do also another important job for Syrian citizens is established where content does not society. mediate the relationships between them. in her enlightening analysis of jokes, cartoons, films in this way, the distance between artists and and everyday life practices of cultural resistance audiences fades away, being replaced by a unique under Hafez al-assad’s rule, lisa Wedeen explains fi gure, ie the citizen who is able to create, even how these live sites of political dissent work to through what clay Shirky defines as “the stupidest undermine public rhetoric and the “disciplinary possible creative act”, namely a facebook page, effects” of the leader’s cult. She underlines that, an internet meme, a viral cartoon. the ‘raised while the latter “isolates and atomizes Syrian hands’ campaign shows the fl uency of Syrians in citizenry by forcing people to evaluate each other offi cial rhetoric and their ability to challenge it through the prisms of obligatory dissimulation, then and regain control over the world of symbols. the comedies, cartoons, films and forbidden jokes work to undo this mechanism of social control”. internet functions as the place where Syrians not yet, it is precisely the act of recognising what only see their creative works featured; they see Wedeen calls the “shared circumstances of unbelief” their connections displayed. it is the public venue that makes the regime’s “politics of as if” stronger where citizens recognise themselves as creators and its disciplinary effect more effective even and being capable to create. the ‘raised hands’, through these artistic practices of dissent. in this still blossoming after more than one year of the perspective, arts and culture – even those expressing uprising, signal the fact that people are not dissent and defiance – become functional to connected through shared unbelief anymore; but, perpetrate the regime’s symbolic power. rather, through a shared awareness of their ability to create and recreate. toWa r d S ac t i v e c i t i Z e n S H i p i n S y r i a
Beeshu, President of Syriato p g o o n puppet m a s te r s Photography courtesy of Masasit Mati 13 68
puppet The anonymous Syrian artists’ group Masasit Mati uses finger puppets, in Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator, because they were easy to smuggle through checkpoints. Their first thirteen episodes, broadcast once a week last year, amassed audiences up to half a million on YouTube, Vimeo Shabih and Facebook. Steeped in the culture of Internet self-reliance, a core group of people did everything, from scriptwriting and costume design to directing, filming and editing. The collective, named after the straw for drinking maté, a popular tea in the Sy r i a n c o u n t r y s i d e , h a s b e e n l a u d e d by international critics for their humour and high production values. Last year, Top Goon won a human rights film award in Cairo. from theatre, art and filmmaking. Some of us are In a rare interview, Top Goon’s masked director journalists. A few of us knew each other from Jameel talks about puppets, the collective creative before but there are others we didn’t know who process and regime change. have joined us especially for Top Goon. There have been some setbacks, what happened? Why did you choose to work with finger puppets? The girl who usually carries the puppets from one We wanted to find something that was easy to place to another got arrested. She was picked up hide, that wouldn’t endanger us as we went for something else. So now we feel we might be through checkpoints. People are being eliminated compromised because we don’t know what kind because of their political views. of information she’ll give. The puppets are now67 hidden with the artist who made them and who We also thought that using a puppet to portray a has been working on them. Because Top Goon has dictator would change perceptions. It makes it become quite popular in Syria, it is quite impossible impossible for you to treat this dictator seriously to carry the puppets in a car, so we’re going to later on. If you were Syrian, you would know that have to find a safe way of transporting them in the dictators in our country have been treated as the future… if they are gods. People almost prayed and kneeled14 to them, especially Bashar al-Assad. So we wanted to break the barrier of fear and remove the god-like aura around him. He’s a Yo u c a n puppet; you can carry him in your hand. You can actually deal move him yourself. You can break him. You can actually deal with everything that is scary with w i t h eve r y t h i n g laughter. I think the puppets have been quite t h a t i s s c a ry w i t h effective. People here have stopped calling him Bashar Assad, they call him Beeshu, the character who is obviously based on the real dictator, in Top Goon. It’s peaceful, effective protest. l au gh t e r . Has there been a Syrian tradition of puppets that you are drawing from? There is a tradition of shadow puppetry. Some of Is it very dangerous to be in possession of us have had experience with puppets before. We the puppets? trained with a foreign troupe that spent time in It’s not that it is very dangerous, but there are Damascus. When we were deciding on whether dangers. We don’t want to exaggerate the situation to use puppets, all of us in Masasit Mati discussed here. People are still demonstrating. People are it at length. We held workshops for writing and carrying on other types of protest and they are brainstorming, and then reached a collective dying for doing that. If the artist who created the decision. puppets were to be discovered, there would be the risk of arrest. Did you write the first series of thirteen episodes all in one go? Or were you writing Who is Masasit Mati? each episode one at a time? All of us have different specialisations. We come We try to talk about specific details, but we also to p
masters try not to have it too localised, so the episode eyes. There is a very interesting video of Abo won’t die, or be out of date, by the time of Soubhi al-Dura, in his eighties, on the Internet. broadcast. A lot of our discussion is about Early on in the revolution, he protested by reciting concepts: peacefulness, no to sectarianism, civil this poem in a public square – “Young men of disobedience, and the Syrian people are one. What Syria, your revolution is to achieve dignity and happens is not a set process. We have certain ideas. glory. No efforts are ever lost if they are used For example, episode 13, ‘The Final Episode’, was towards restoring dignity. You have been so written first. In the next series we’re definitely generous and giving in this revolution. You have going to talk more about violence. set an example to mankind of what a revolution should be like…” He died today. Why have you chosen to do that? We are not trying to deal in generalities. We want to explore ideas that are relevant. Our problem in the revolution isn’t just to have the regime gone, our problem is what will come after – we have to The purpose think about that ahead of time. Unfortunately we have weapons now. We have the Free Syrian Army. of our art They are the soldiers who defected and it’s great is to address that they didn’t want to kill their own people, and they are risking their lives for the cause, but the Syria –Jameel was in conversation with Malu Halasa, Leen Zyiad and Aram Tahhan. situation is complicated. We are still confused about it. We really need to discuss it. Our main all o f t h e c o u n t r y, goal after the revolution is a state that abides by the Syria law, for each and every one of its citizens. t h a t ’s r evo l t i n g , At the end of ‘The Final Episode’, the actor who the silent Syria is manipulating Beeshu appears onstage and addresses the audience directly, by saying to your and 15 fellow Syrians, “People, this is the easiest part, believe me. The most important and difficult step the regime as well. is to forgive each other and to build a free, civil 66 and democratic Syria…” It was a very moving statement from what should have been a frivolous puppet play. How did that scene come about? How does Top Goon help the resistance? After we wrote the episode, performed and finished Artistic work is very interesting right now and it, we were silent for five minutes. It wasn’t because impor tant because our revolution is being we decided that we would have a five-minute silence portrayed as killing, murder and shelling. It is a for the martyrs. We felt we had put our soul into matter of merging, meeting and discussing ideas, that episode and there was nothing more we could despite the fear. In this period I have met more add. It is a recurrent theme – our helplessness in people than I have during my entire lifetime. I’m the face of the situation. I don’t know what to say, re-discovering new voices and ideas that I never there is a lot of pressure. I don’t want to say – it is thought were available or possible. Although the really because of the way we’re living. All of us are regime narrative is that we are a mob taking over trying to make a small contribution to what’s the streets, we want to show that the Syrian people happening, which is epic. are culturally aware. Please elaborate. The other message from the regime is that the The constant pressure makes our lives and work revolution is sectarian, but in fact it is Bashar too confusing sometimes. Every day you hear that Assad who has been dividing Syrian communities someone was arrested, someone died. The stories and classes. To be honest, some of our friends that we’re hearing are drastic. Sometimes it makes have been arrested; some of them are still working you feel like this is all too, too much to bear, but courageously. Syria has become an incredible at the end of the day, all of us in Masasit Mati have workshop for artists. a very clear purpose. And we have clarity about it. We know where we are going to end up. There is a notable difference between the image of the revolution on official state Syrian TV and Where is that? what’s happening on the ground. The regime is going to go eventually – if you see The purpose of our art is to address Syria – all of the amount of bravery people are showing, the the country, the Syria that’s revolting, the silent amount of risk they are taking, the look in their Syria and the regime as well. goon
Written by Malu Halasa 16 65 pa i n t i n gt h e r e vo lu t i o n Hamza Bakkour (40x50 cm)
Through his pen and ink drawings Khalil Younes experiencing every day. Recently with my image hopes to address the main themes of the Syrian of Hamza Bakkour, they cut it out and made uprising – and in the series The Revolution 2011, to a stencil of it. Now they are spraying it on walls.” bestow a record that future generations can appreciate. For the painter, illustrator and video artist Khalil Younes, the contrast was almost too much to bear. I don’t want “We saw hundreds of thousands of professionally people to idolise taken photographs of the Egyptian revolution,” h e e x p l a i n s . “ Ye t b e c a u s e i n t e r n a t i o n a l Q a sh o u sh . photographers were not allowed into Syria, we are only seeing videos that the people are taking H e i s a m a r t y r, and hearing their stories. More than that, video is he was killed brutally, not accessible as still images and it doesn’t last as long. It is not something you can print on your but he is only own printer and put on your wall.” one He feels there is a need for someone like him to of take up the cause, and to capture current historic events. “As artists we should make something that thousands not only reflects on the revolution right now, but w h o h ave died make something that will last two generations from now. I felt it should be done in the style of during the uprising. Francisco de Goya. Someone will see this work and say, ‘This is the Syrian revolution.’” Younes’ brightly coloured, emotionally searing From the outset of our interview, Younes has been 17 portraits of some of the key figures of the uprising keen to stress how he regards his creations. have been prolifically reproduced over the Internet “I don’t want my work to be documentation, and as well as sold at exhibitions for Syrian humanitarian I don’t want my work to exploit the tragedy for 64 relief in the Middle East. They include such people artistic ends.” The artist is also wary of the as Hamza Bakkour, a child who had his jaw blown understandable tendency to romanticise things, off during the intense shelling of Homs, and to focus on personal tragedy at the expense of Qashoush, the popular singer from Hama who was collective suffering. “I don’t want people to idolise brutally murdered. However, for Younes, there has Qashoush”, he adds. “He is a martyr, he was killed been a difference in the way that people at home brutally, but he is ultimately just one of thousands and those outside Syria understand and utilise his of people who have died during the uprising. Some illustrations. Inside the country, it is a real day- of them were buried without being noticed, some to-day, physical, not virtual, use of the art. of them were buried alive – they were brutally killed. So I don’t want the idea that we have “Because the people in Syria are living this suffered for 50 years and that we have idolised tragedy,” he observes, “they see my work as an certain figures for 50 years whether they are artistic reflection on something that they are artists or politicians.” For Younes, the revolution also has the potential to have far-reaching social implications. “I feel that it isn’t just a people standing up to their government, to the regime, it is a revolution with many aspects: an artistic revolution and a social one as well.The Comb (50x40 cm) Recently there have been ‘shy trials’ of reflection, on the sexual attitudes of a closed society. “This subject is very taboo in Syria,” he notes. “Now, significantly, you can see people trying to introduce sensitive ideas to the public; and it seems they are receptive, which itself is a sign of social change.”
I t is n ’ t ju st a p eo p le In his video installation, Syria, also included in the Culture in Defiance exhibition, Younes pairs the standing up unthinkable: ordinary sounds of laughter as someone, sewing skin, manages to attach a button. to the regime, He says he doesn’t make outright scary movies, i t i s a r e vo l u t i o n but there is something even more terrifying in the general fear that pervades a dictatorial society w i t h m a ny a s p e c t s : like Syria’s – a fear that is menacingly ambiguous. an He grew up in one of the poor alleys of Damascus. artistic revolution “In my neighbourhood they had a saying: when you walk the streets you meet people from the and a social one, rest of the world. There were migrant workers as well. from all over Syria, and Turkey too.” Baba Amr, the devastated district in Homs, reminded him of the close-knit community he left when he went to live in the US at eighteen, and eventually trained Hama 30 as an artist. Younes’ pen and ink drawing for the thirtieth anniversary of the 1982 Hama massacre ‘Hama 30’ For Younes, The Revolution 2011 series remains a depicts a wounded and naked headless torso work in progress. He concludes, “Not being able enrobed in a mesh of red. It is perhaps the only to do anything to stop the massacres and the female nude image to come out of the Syrian killing, the only thing I can rely on is what I do experience. There is a smouldering anger beneath best – to not only express myself but to articulate the surface of the image and a deep, lasting the emotions of those who really don’t have a anguish as the artist talks about Hama. voice anymore because they were killed, jailed or63 have fled the country.” “As children, we lived our lives knowing about ‘the events’ – that’s what the regime wanted us to call the 1982 Hama massacre. We knew it was ‘justified’ because the regime said they were trying to protect us and destroy the Muslim Brotherhood.18 Nobody really mentioned it. There was no media back then, no Facebook, no phones, nothing. So all we heard were some tales from people who witnessed it. “But now, when we see what happens to peaceful protestors, we suddenly realise this is what took place in Hama”, he continues. “Those people lost their brothers, their sisters, their whole lives and nobody did anything about it. The regime has been lying to us for 30 years, and those people have been living with their pain and in fear for thirty years. When I came to this realisation, it was a terrible.” Younes’ series also addresses a history of fear and violence in other struggles. He revisits ‘Saigon Execution’, Eddie Adams’ Vietnam War Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, for Syria. Another work ‘The Comb’ is equally disturbing. Resembling handguns of the 19th century, amputation combs were used during the Civil War. Younes admits that he has been deeply upset by some of the news footage from Homs where body parts would be seemingly tossed away and left side by side with mundane things, like a comb or a tyre, on the ground, in the street. His words are chilling. “Everyday objects lost their meaning for me.” Hama 30 (40x50 cm)
About a Young Man Called Kashoosh (30x40 cm) kh a l i l yo u n e s 19 62 pa i n t i n g t h e r e vo l u t i o n
S a m a r ya Z b e K a l— merjeH Excerpted from A Woman in the Crossfi re: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution (Haus Publishing, 2012) by Samar Yazbek SQ ua r e61 When the uprising began in Syria, novelist and Suddenly i start to notice strange figures i haven’t s o c i a l a c t i v i s t , S a m a r ya z b e k , a t t e n d e d ever seen before materialising in the street. demonstrations and voiced her opposition to the oversized men with broad and puffed-out chests,20 regime. denounced by her family and alawite clan, their heads shaved, wearing black short-sleeved she was soon forced to live on the run and detained shirts that reveal giant muscles covered in tattoos, on multiple occasions by the authorities. despite seething at everything that moves. Glaring as they such conditions, yazbek, a veteran of earlier walk, their hands swinging at their sides, fi gures protests outside the libyan and egyptian embassies that sow terror wherever they go, thickening the in damascus, managed to keep a meticulous record air all around them: why have i never noticed them of unfolding events. Her fi rst-person reportage in the city before? Where do they live? and why and testimonies of opposition figures has now been have they appeared today? published as A Woman in the Crossfi re: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution, an invaluable document of i walk back through Souk al-Hamidiyyeh, nearly what is happening in Syria today. empty except for a few street vendors. the shops are all closed. nothing but security forces patrols are deployed near the entrance to the Souk scattered all around while at the end of the market al-Hamidiyyeh, and near bab touma they stop even more buses sit packed with armed men. i can some men for questioning, grabbing their ids. i now appreciate the meaning of the phrase ‘tense can’t wait around long enough to find out whether calm’. i have heard this expression before, thinking they kept their ids in the end; i must keep moving. it more a figure of speech than an ac tual i glance at them out of the corner of my eye as i description . these days in damascus i can pass them, and then turn into a crowded alley. understand ‘tense calm’ by people’s eyes and Here, almost, is human life. the security presence movements. i walk out of al-Hamidiyyeh towards is heavy all around the umayyad mosque, and al-merjeh Square despite having resolved not to hordes of people are holding up flags and portraits go there anymore after what happened one day of the president. a few weeks ago outside the interior ministry. the mosque is closed, they won’t let me in, they al-merjeh Square is empty except for security claim there are people inside praying, but before forces who are lined up in signifi cant numbers, leaving i sit down outside to smoke a cigarette spread throughout the square. not too far off and calmly watch the situation. there is a bus fi lled with men and weapons. With a Wo m a n i n t H e c r o S S f i r e
its wretched hotels al-merjeh Square seems more to help carry the boy. We then continued brisklydistinctive when all the people have disappeared walking. Why had i run? the little boy asked meand its shops are closed. to stay with him; he was going to wait for his father, saying how scared he was now that his father andit looks nothing like it did on 16 march, when dozens brother had left him, and that he was going to hitof prisoners’ families assembled outside the the policeman who struck his brother. When heministry. Nearly assembled, they did not actually asked me whether they had been taken to prisonsucceed. Standing there in silence, they looked like his mother had been, i was silent, unable toodd, almost elegant, holding pictures of their loved respond, until i simply told him, “you’re comingones who had been imprisoned for their political with me now.”opinions. i stood with them, beside the husbandand two sons of a female prisoner. Suddenly the actually it wasn’t the police who beat up his father,earth split open with security forces and shabiha the police just watched while people got punched[armed pro-government thugs], who started and kicked and insulted and arrested; they justbeating people. the small group started to panic, stood there, silent . then a group came outand i, staring right at those men, screamed, “anyone chanting slogans and carrying fl ags and pictureswho kills his own people is a traitor!” the people of the president, including some of the very samedidn’t fight back, they took all the blows and the people who had carried out the beatings in theinsults and then started disappearing one after theother. they were taken away by men who hademerged just then out of the street, men with hugerings and infl ated muscles and gaunt eyes and then a groupcracked skin – they created a human wall as theyflung themselves upon the demonstrators and beat came outthem, throwing them down on the ground and c H a n t i n G S lo G a n Sstamping on them. other men captured people andhauled them away, made them disappear. i saw and carrying flagsthem open up a shop, throw a woman inside and and pictures of the 21shut the iron door behind her before heading aftersome other woman. p r e S i d e n t, including some of 60the group, while trying to stand together, gotbroken up. the husband beside me vanished, t h e ve r y s a m eleaving his small four-year-old son behind. Severalmen grabbed the father along with his ten-year- people whoold son. i stood there, like a defiled statue. i pulledthe little one in close to my chest, as if i was in a had carried outmovie scene. is there really any difference between the beatings in thereality and fiction? Where is the line that separatesthe two? i was shivering. Suddenly i noticed the first place Translated from Arabic by Max Weisslittle boy gaping at his father and his brother asthey were beaten, watching as the two of themwere stuffed inside a bus. the face of the ten yearold was frozen, as if he had just been administered fi rst place, as well as others who had appearedan electric shock, and a powerful fi st came fl ying suddenly. they, too, started beating people withat his head: tHump. His head went limp, and after their flags, and the people who had almosta second, they kicked him along with his father managed to assemble there dispersed,inside the bus. i recoiled and turned the little boy’s bewilderment all over their faces. that night thehead away so he wouldn’t be able to see what was news repor ted that infiltrators among thehappening, slung him over my shoulder and ran. demonstrators had picked a fi ght, and that the minister of interior had received complaints fromjust then a friend of mine appeared in a nearby the prisoners’ families. i heard all this on Syriansquare, and three men pounced on her. i grabbed state television, still haunted by the eyes of thather arm, screaming, “leave her alone!” they threw little boy i had carried away, imagining him insteadme aside, along with the little boy who was by lost beneath feet, wandering the city streets alonenow weeping in my arms, and took her away. i kept in search of his father and his brother.running, stopping outside a store where the ownershouted at me, “Get away from here! can’t yousee we’re trying to make a living?” as i ran away,one of the demonstrators ran up alongside of me d i a r i e S o f t H e S y r i a n r e vo l u t i o n
B o dy Human rights lawyer and political activistWritten by Razan Zaitouneh Razan Zaitouneh was blogging regularly about events inside Syria before the authorities forced her into hiding.58 Co u nt22 Photography by Fadi Zaidan Last year Zaitouneh was one of four Arab recipients of the Sakharov Prize.
عـداد ّI have to watch the videos that show the peoplewho have been killed during the Syrian revolution. خرباء توثيقMy task is to make sure I have the martyr’s nameand the details of his or her death. Daily there aredozens of videos. In a few hours, everyday, I see املوت منhundreds dying. On average each video lasts oneminute. Within an hour, I could be witnessing sixty أمثالنا ال يبكونbodies, unless the video is of a mass murder, thenthe number multiplies. ،أود لو أنشج بالبكاء كلام استعدت تفاصيل املقطعBody after body: some are in shrouds, others arestill covered in wounds and blood. Some faces .لكنني ال أفعل، خرباء املوت أيضا ال يبكونseem to be panicked and shocked: is this you,Death? Other faces look asleep, with absolute ال يستجدي دمعهم حتى مقطع األب يف مدينة الرسنتtranquility appearing on their features … Some وهو يركض كاملجنون، يحمل بني ذراعيه طفله الذيare beautiful with soft skin … and a ghost of a تحول جزأه السفيل إىل هيكل عظمي بفعل القذيفةknowing smile – the martyred children and theireternal tampering with our souls. خارقة الذكاء، التي تركت ال��رأس بوضع أفضل حاال ليتمكن األب من متييز ولده واملسح عىل شعره للمرةThe female martyrs are less apparent on the videos. .األخريةSo you need to draw the martyrs’ features in yourimagination. They live in silence on YouTube, and قصة اآلب��اء واألبناء قصة أخ��رى يف مقاطع الشهداءwe are never allowed to observe the rituals of painsurrounding the moment of their death. املصورة. عىل األغلب يف حال تواجد العائلة، تحيط ،أجواء النواح والنشيج والوالويل من حناجر احرقها األملBut the hardest videos are of the martyrs in their األم ترفع الدعاء إىل السامء بأن يذيق القتلة حرقة قلبdeath throes. In such cases, you find yourself الحرمان من فلذة أكبادهم، واألبناء يرفعون الدعاءobliged to respect their last moments, and not .للسامء بأن يذيق القتلة لوعة اليتم والفقد 23casually move on to another video. You have tohold the hand of the suffering person in front ofyou on the computer screen, look deeply in their ،أحد األطفال أدهشني بإرصاره عىل أن والده مل يرحل فعيناه تحدقان يف عينيه، وما فتأ يخرب املتحلقني حول 57eyes, even if the pain is pulling out your eyes, andhear their final whispers. They might say somethingin the language of the space lying between life .الجثامن، بأنه حي، والله عايش، مفتح عيونهand death. They might be sending an apology to بعض األمهات القليالت يخدعننا أو يحاولن. يودعنa lover or a word of longing to a mother, or theymight even be singing … You just want to listen, االبن بال دمعة، بصوت خافت وبكثري من الهدوء. وكأنbut the people surrounding someone suffering الجبل يتحدث من قمته أو الوادي من عمقه، يحتسبنهhave no hope in hearing the message. They are .عند الله شهيدا، ويدارين األمل ال أدري أين أو كيفscreaming to the injured: “Say the shahada, saythe shahada…” If I were dying, I would probably هؤالء أحبهن بعمق، خرباء توثيق املوت يعرفون جيداwant to be told that I would live on. Then I could ماذا يعني أن ال يتمكن املرء من البكاء حيث يتوجبclose my eyes with the beautiful hope that I would عليه ذلك. أوليس العويل يف مثل تلك اللحظات حقsoon be back with my beloved ones, or huggedby someone who could wipe my head gently in أسايس من حقوق االنسان غري قابل للتنازل، سقط سهواmy last moments. من املواثيق الدولية؟As it happens, most of the videos usually end before تفاصيل املوت ال تنتهي، اآلالف منها يف آالف املقاطعthe ultimate moment of death and its serenity, and املصورة. خرباء توثيق املوت من أمثالنا ال يبكون، يكتفونtheir final whispers linger in one’s memory. باملشاهدة بأفواه فاغرة وجبني مقطب، ويف لحظاتIn a few videos, martyrs deliberately registered a معينة، يسمعون صوتا يعوي داخلهم. وال يكفون عنfilmed speech before they lef t . Some only التساؤل، إن كانوا، هم من يوثقون املوت عرب شاشاتcontained glances and a few words for their dearones. Abdul Mohaymen Alyounes is lying on the ،أجهزتهم، أو أولئك من يوثقونه بأصابعهم وعيونهمgrass next to his rifle, playing nervously with sticks سيعودون يوما ما كائنات “طبيعية”، أم أن املوت ضمهمon the ground, with his fingers. He is asking us to .إىل برزخه حتى النهايةpray for mercy if he leaves, then he says he misseshis mother. We can almost see the tears in his eyes.But the heroes of the Free Army do not cry, so he املـوت