This collective of anonymous volunteers and self-taught filmmakers has been steadily capturing their Syrian reality, offering the world an alternative image of a country often reduced to soldiers and extremists.
“If we accept the mainstream representation of the conflict in Syria we just have two actors. A gentleman who is a dictator, but he is very polite. He smiles, a very attractive guy, but he is a criminal – and the ugly jihadists. But we don’t see the society. We don’t see ordinary people. So we try to show those people who are not victims, not heroes, they just try to struggle for freedom and to live with dignity.” *
That’s what Charif Kiwan of the Abou Naddara Film Collective had to say about the work of the collective at the opening of Here and Elsewhere, an exhibition of contemporary Middle Eastern Art at the New Museum in New York last month.
Since April 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, Abou Naddara has published a new video each week. The short clips are the visual equivalent of tweets: abbreviated snapshots of life inside Syria. Combating the dominant image of Syria as violent and extremist, the Abou Naddara shorts attempt to salvage and preserve the Syria known and loved by their makers.
The extraordinarily prolific collective have more than 250 videos on their Vimeo channel. The films span the collective’s early work capturing open-ended scenes of everyday life like pre-dawn shots of the Ummayyad Mosque being cleaned, to later interview-based films such as those with prisoners whose stories of torture and detention spill out. The Abou Naddara archive spans an extraordinary breadth of subject matter, offering an extensive and detailed portrait of Syria today.
The name Abou Naddara has a rich etymology. It literally means “father of glasses” in Arabic, and more figuratively refers to the man who sells glasses. This aspect of the name is part of the tradition of referring to a person by their trade, or the objects associated with them. The name also makes reference to a satirical magazine written by Yacub Sanu, a nineteenth century Egyptian journalist and playwright. Sanu’s magazine was banned by Egyptian authorities for its revolutionary content, but the ban simply generated interest around the publication and spurred Sanu to continue his work. The film collective hopes that their work will have a similar impact.
The exhibition, Here and Elsewhere, contains work by five Syrian artists among the extensive survey of forty-five artists from fifteen countries. The exhibition runs until September 28, 2014 at the New Museum in New York.
*The Guardian, July 18, 2014