West Branch has partnered with Khaled Youssef to make the upcoming exhibition, “Flight: Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom,” a reality. His enthusiasm, sincerity, and personal connections to the Syrian art community, spread across international borders, have helped us to bring incredible works of emotionally powerful and socially conscious art to our small Vermont town. We asked Khaled, a Renaissance man and beautiful writer, to share his thoughts surrounding the exhibition with readers. Following the introduction below, he writes to us about the crucial role art plays in how we attempt to understand and relate to the triumphs and tragedies of human experience.
“Khaled Youssef was born in Damascus and lives in Nice, France. He is a photographer, a poet and an art-lover by passion, yet a surgeon by profession. In his work as a photographer and poet, Khaled does not seek complexity, but rather impalpable beauty and poetry. Apart from this, Khaled also dedicates himself to the management of the ‘Syria Art – Syrian Artists’ Facebook page, and of the ‘Creative Havens: Syrian Artists And Their Studios’ project, for which he is responsible for the photography, the video and the interview sessions with the artists in their studios.” – Creative Havens
To make art is to create a parallel world- a fairer, more humane world- but it is also a collective memory, perhaps it is even the finest history book that expresses the hopes, dreams, ambitions and ideals, but also the disappointment, sadness, injustice and perplexity of each epoch. Art is detached from what we think of it, and that is where it draws its strength. Its subjectivity gives it a free space because one way or another, it will reach someone’s heart to provoke a reaction and awaken his emotions.
In times of war, when suffering defies imagination and destruction becomes the watchword, the quest for universal beauty and the drive for creation become more than ever a necessity and even a duty. Art is a witness to the chaos, but also a bearer of hope, which brings with it rainbow colors to places dominated by the grayness imposed by human ignorance.
“Every civilized man has two countries; his own and Syria,” says André Parrot, archaeologist and former curator of the Louvre Museum. Syria, the Pearl of the Levant, the Cradle of History and the Mother of Civilizations: a country little known in the modern era, but which, was exemplary for decades as to the diversity of its society and the creativity of its people – a people extremely proud and loving of their native soil and the Eastern sun. A country marked by the influx of migrants for centuries, whose doors were always left wide open to newcomers. Syria, land of exile, became a land for exiles; war teaches people to flee with their bodies while seeding the soil of their ancestors with their childhood dreams, while clinging to a moment of peace and serenity as if that was to last a lifetime.
When chaos becomes coercion, it is for human beings to create an alternative worthy of humanity in the noblest sense, to create a spark and bring a light that shines stronger than ever, contrasted by darkness. It becomes more imperative than ever to let writing, poetry and art speak out as weapons against the injustice of life and men.
The experience of the Syrian artists reflects that of their people; there has always been a artistic diaspora that was more or less voluntary, in search of other horizons, other visions and other spaces, but there were also those artists who have stayed in the homeland to tell about their joy and sorrow, to denounce the flaws of society, or simply to highlight the surrounding beauty. For the Syrians, art has always been considered a vade mecum of emotions and a testimony to the epochs.
And then suddenly the unexpected occurred: a ruthless and endless war, transforming the passport into a document of survival, and the production of art into a luxury difficult to afford. Some artists have folded their tent and have gone ̶ with feathers and colors instead of luggage, looking for a lost security, a future for their children and their arts ̶ towards the four corners of the Earth. Others stayed behind. They may have no sources of income anymore, their studios may be struggling to subsist under the threat of bombs and explosions, but their deep roots help them resist those obscure winds.
Like these Syrian artists who continue to build and create, our approach is anchored in this same desire to see beauty and enhance it. There is so much beauty to be discovered in Syria and in the heart of the Syrians themselves, so we wish to speak of this country through a lens other than that of war and death. We wish to recall its renown talents and bring to the surface the hidden ones, to encourage the Syrian artists, help them in their efforts, and to provide their richly diverse art with more visibility. Since recent years, Danii Kessjan, Humam Alsalim and myself maintain these non-profit based projects that are privately funded initiatives, and also independent of all political views. Through our Facebook pages and our website, “Syria Art – Syrian Artists” and “Syrian Creative Havens,” we focus on creativity. What we share is the art, our priority is Beauty, and our field of vision humanity in its broadest and noblest sense.
Initially, we believed we were throwing rose petals into the bottom of a well, hoping to hear an echo! To our greatest surprise, the echo has been audible and resonant in return, and today one of the most beautiful echoes is the project we are sharing with West Branch Gallery: the exhibition of Syrian artists from different backgrounds around a theme that is dear to them and to us: “Flight: Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom.” The theme and the humanistic approach of our interlocutors are in line with our own projects and borrow the horizon of our dreams. The works are dialogues between the visible and the invisible, the experienced and the dreamed, a connection between the past, present and sometimes the future, embodied by the hope of the Syrian artists who are familiar to exile, voluntary or forced, and are connected to the misfortune of their people. This project is the result of our common convictions, the victory of a dream with intercontinental dimensions, and it has come together because we have faith in the power of art as a spark that radiates in the midst of darkness, jasmine that is strong enough to bloom again amid the ruins.
Italicized text written by Khaled Youssef