Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s series Syrian Museum is the perfect example of the art being produced by Syrians in response to the ongoing and brutal war. Currently living in Dubai, along with several other Syrian artists seeking refuge from the violence tearing their country apart, Azzam refuses to be labelled a political artist.
In one of his most widely distributed images, Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” is superimposed by means of a lightbox over a bombed out building in Damascus. Other images in the series include Goya’s poignant surrender scene from his “Third Of May 2808” juxtaposed with a demolished residential neighbourhood, and stick figure snipers aiming at runners underneath an Olympic banner.
Part of the success of Azzam’s art is the amount of work his contrasting images do. The shimmering sensuality of the golden colour of “The Kiss” is negated by the pockmarked wall whose black holes gape through the projection and shift the elating and overwhelming quality of the dense pattern of colours and shapes in a completely different direction. The waving, fluid figures of tree, cloud, and grass in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are counterbalanced by the straight or jagged lines and right angles of concrete rubble and debris. Another reason his images go viral on the Internet is because of the culture clash they imply: iconic Western artworks superimposed or juxtaposed with images of Syrian towns destroyed. Additionally, the digital medium of these works speaks to their endurance. While these works cannot be physically created – “The Kiss” hasn’t been painted on the bombed out building, and Matisse’s dancers are not perched mid-step on a pile of rubble – they are preserved forever online, for people all over the world to see.
Azzam does not see himself as a political artist, but rather an artist reacting to his situation. “I’m an artist that’s doing artwork with a political background because of the situation, because I’m Syrian so I have to be involved in what’s happening in my country” he explains.
He struggles with the frustrating feeling that “art doesn’t make sense” in the middle of a war.”Syrians are making their own revolution against the regime and now against the jihadi groups and against Russia, against Iran, against Hezbollah against everybody.”
“I have to do something for the people there,” said Azzam. “I want to do anything to send any message to people around the world about what happened in my country: People dying every day, every minute, and nobody can stop that.”
Azzam’s work showed at the Ayyam Gallery in Amman, Dubai, and London.