The walls that stored memories of the city are where people now are lined up and executed, Abdul Karim Majdal Al Beik says Image Credit: Supplied

Syrian artist Abdul Karim Majdal Al Beik seeks inspiration from the ancient, time-worn walls of the old quarter of Damascus. In his earlier paintings, the artist used the material that were used in the construction of the walls such as plaster, to recreate the texture of the walls, and replicated the graffiti he saw on the walls. But in his latest body of work, titled “Against the Wall”, the mood is very different. Gone are the playfulness and the innocence of the earlier paintings. And the romantic notion of uncovering stories of everyday life written on the walls has been replaced by the compulsion to reveal the harsh reality of the ongoing conflict in Syria, witnessed by these walls.

Al Beik’s paintings depict the violence and destruction that has become a part of daily life in his country. Rather than aged, ancient walls, the background looks like military tents. In fact, he has painted on pieces of the material used for making military tents, patched together with big, visible stitches. The paintings are filled with swaths of black, sinister splashes of red, burn marks and symbols of fear and death such as scarecrows and crosses. Guns and knives have been stuck on to some of the canvases, while others feature bullets, clothes and other fragments of life found by the artist in the rubble of destroyed homes. Perhaps the artwork that makes the strongest sociopolitical statement is the one titled “The Trap”. Here, the top half of the canvas is covered with mousetraps, and hanging by strings from these traps are stones with words such as “security”, “stability”, “resistance” and “confrontation” written on them.

Al Beik’s grim artworks convey the darkness that has engulfed his country and is tearing it apart. They speak about the lies spoken and false promises and threats made by the leaders to keep the people in their clutches for so many years. And they depict the tragic reality that the people of Syria are being attacked by an army that is supposed to protect them.

Speaking about the changes in his work, Al Beik says, “I am interested in capturing the passage of time and its effect. And I found that painting walls is the best way to achieve this because walls are like a memory of a city, where myriad stories are recorded in the graffiti and the marks created by people and elements of nature. But today, in Syria, men and women are being lined up against the same walls and executed — the same walls where children once scrawled doodles and young lovers wrote their names. The barbaric and indiscriminate killings have forced me to use new and violent vocabularies in my work to express the pain and horror. The patched military fabric on which these paintings are made is like a tattered military tent that offers no refuge and only holds painful memories of years of terror. The sharp blades of the knives speak about the torture and blatant killing of ordinary people and of the lifeless body of human conscience that allows this crucifixion of the Syrian people to continue. My work is a scream in the face of hatred, fear, killing and moral and humanitarian decay.”

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.

“Against the Wall” will run at Ayyam Gallery, DIFC, until June 27.


Many facets of Iran

Iranian artist Mehdi Farhadian’s latest work explores the relationship between human beings and nature, while also making a subtle comment about the sociopolitical situation in the region. Named “A Miracle for the Whole World”, it features a series of large paintings of beautiful landscapes. The stunning vistas of mountains, oceans, forests and waterfalls are based on his childhood memories of the landscape of northern Iran. But within these pristine surroundings the artist has created imaginary scenes featuring characters from Persian literature and religious mythology and important symbols such as the lion and the Sun from the pre-revolution Iranian flag, or soldiers dressed in Pahlavi-era military uniform.

The paintings have a magical and mystical quality. The people in the paintings appear small and insignificant against the magnificent backdrop and the forces of nature. At first glance, the scenes of swimmers in the sea, a woman lying asleep on the river bank and lions resting on a mountain top seem to be calm and peaceful. But sinister details, such as streaks of lightening across the sky, the appearance of a huge whirlpool close to the swimmers, a gigantic beehive hanging from a tree above the dreaming woman, blood on the mouths of the lions and even a dead lion, create a sense of uneasiness and lurking danger, adding other layers to the narrative.

The natural disasters faced by the people in the paintings are a metaphorical reference to the present turmoil in the region. But the golden rays of the Sun emerging from the dark clouds and scenes of desolate deserts transformed into lush meadows with flowers also offer some hope for the future. “As an artist I want my work to be about peace, but how I can do that when there is no peace in my country and my region. My paintings express my dream of a miracle that will make our world a peaceful place, but I cannot ignore the reality of the fear, pain and destruction around me,” Farhadian says.

The show will run at Lawrie Shabibi gallery, Al Quoz, until June 6.