The Centrepiece of Celebrating Syria Festival 2017
On 10th July 2017, we launched the Parallel Republic, the centerpiece of Celebrating Syria Festival 2017, at Rethink Rebuild Society, Manchester. The exhibition contained painting, illustration, photography, film, animation, graffiti and music born of the Syrian uprising and the bravery of many citizen journalists and artist-activists. It reflected on the personal impact of the political, and the power of citizens to document war while the media narrative simplifies outcomes and events, dangerously skewing reality and warping genuine attempts at truthful reportage.
Conscientious artistic creation is a dangerous act in Syria. When, in 2011, a group of school children were arrested and tortured for writing “Ash-sha’b yurid isqat an-nizam” (“The people want to overthrow the regime”) on the walls of Dera’a, their act sparked renewed Syrian protest and uprising at the time of the Arab spring. As the war rages on and under the weight of this oppression, countless artists, musicians and activists are standing up to be seen and heard, dealing with the chaos of war through painting, illustration, photography, film, graffiti and music.
The suppression of information-sharing under Assad’s regime has led to collectives, anonymous at first but increasingly identified, sharing artwork, photography, posters and newspapers for print and distribution via social media – an act of rebellion in itself. These artist-activists have created a parallel republic where artists and activists share information and express themselves virtually, as well as on the streets.
Graffiti and stencilling has continued to form a vital act of creative expression and defiance throughout Syria’s war-torn towns and cities. Satire, as in conflicts throughout history, forms an important tool in communicating events, as shown in the posters, comics and the incisive puppetry of Top Goon. Artists and illustrators, many of whom have left Syria, are using their talents to process the chaos and trauma of war, highlighting the effects of conflict on their personal lives and homeland.
Mobile phones have quickly become the main recording device for testaments to the Syrian conflict, providing footage of horrific events and contributing to more reflective and developed documentaries. The recording and processing of atrocities by citizen journalists, and the myriad instances of creative activism by courageous and talented artists and musicians are hopeful acts. This evidence of beauty, humour and creativity emerging from such horrors reminds us of the personal daily reality of human beings at a time when the war rhetoric of a distanced Western media aims to simplify a crisis into casualty statistics.
Great thanks to Sarah Faraday and Ibrahim Fakhri, the curators of Parallel Republic, Great thanks also to Malu Halasa and Zaher Omareen, two instrumental people in making this exhibition happen.