fellow artist Niels Broszat invited me on a virtual tour through Damascus while my world was very much an island in lock-down. i had not chosen Damascus (Niels did, do have a look at his art) but welcomed the diversion. Rania Kataf, Syrian cultural heritage expert, founder of Humans of Damascus, and a true Damascene, showed us a very old, culturally rich city (follow Rania on Instagram).
i vaguely knew about its age but i was apprehensive at first to use this new experience because of its recent history. war torn between an autocrat regime and ISIS extremists and more factions and eventually global powers. even in my remote West, local populist politician Wilders dared to call the culture of Islamic countries ‘backwards’ – only to exhibit his own ignorance. an ignorance that needs to be challenged by knowledge.
it felt like a hornet’s nest i should keep my nose out of. but then again, this civil war is but a blip in its several millennia-long existence. and the people of this country deserve some positive attention after a lot of suffering. and really, so much of my own culture can be traced back to the Levant.
the multitude of belligerent parties in this horrible war is characteristic of this melting pot: regularly piping hot and partly exploding but in the end, like she did so often in her history, the city adapted and survived.
Canaanites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Arabs, Ancient and modern Egyptians, European Crusaders, Persians, European colonists, Lawrence of Arabia, Christian Mongols, Kurds, Alawites, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Jews, Americans, Turks, Russians.
to highlight just one of legions of rulers: Saladin! he was a Kurd who became sultan of Egypt and Syria, a mighty adversary of the Crusaders but at the same time honoured in medieval Europe as a model of a wise and fair king. (do read the Ringparabel in Lessings Nathan der Weise).
the more i read about this city, the more i felt like Goethe reading the Persian poet Hafis: Wer sich selbst und andre kennt / Wird auch hier erkennen: / Orient und Occident / Sind nicht mehr zu trennen. bearing in mind that my east actually is in the western part of the silk route. i felt like i was reading the history of mankind, not just that of one city.
today, we seem to be more connected worldwide than ever before. on the other hand, we’re still focused on what divides us. and what divides us, has always divided us: the multiplicity that actually defines our species as one.
so this series is not really about Damascus. as a Western artist, my knowledge and perception of this city, its past and culture(s) is a distorted, fragmented and coloured tapestry at best. i hope, some patterns are identifiable nevertheless, of ancient and modern Damascus, of ancient and modern human /being/: an indispensable characteristic chunk of the human mosaic.
the juxtapositions (2022)
rearrange the letters from ‘cell’ to ‘chill’ and a new characteristic of the letter ‘c’ appears. these drawings are such rearrangements: each time they unlock a different characteristic of the parts. the whole of knowledge is greater than the sum of the parts.
choice of context and choice of material, coloured pencil or silverpoint steer the interpretation. knowing this is just as important as the conveyed information itself.
at the basis of each drawing is astonishment at current themes such as displacement, inequality, the human as animal in a geographical and/or historical context. each current theme consists of new images of historical or timeless counterparts. in this way it gains weight or is put into perspective.
vsvs commvnis aqvarvm est,