Syrian artist Tammam Azzam: ‘To be an artist is an endless dream’

Syrian artist Tammam Azzam: ‘To be an artist is an endless dream’
Azzam’s 2013 “Syrian Museum” photomontage series, in which he inserted famous masterpieces into scenes of destruction from the ongoing civil war in his country, garnered international attention. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 February 2021

Syrian artist Tammam Azzam: ‘To be an artist is an endless dream’

Syrian artist Tammam Azzam: ‘To be an artist is an endless dream’
  • The acclaimed Syrian artist on challenges, loss and optimism

LONDON: It must be strange for artists to hear people theorizing about their art. Talking to Tammam Azzam, you get the sense that, while he is happy to engage and listen, the Syrian artist is not particularly interested in adding layers of rumination to what he has already expressed on canvas.

“Sometimes even the artist cannot realize the message because there is no message — just a visual language,” he says. “Even I don’t know exactly what it means.”

Part of the reason that people want to talk about the ‘meaning’ or ‘message’ in Azzam’s work is that his images are so powerful. When you look at his photomontage “Bon Voyage”  — showing a shattered Syrian apartment block suspended by balloons in front of the burning Twin Towers — you feel a flood of mixed emotions. Azzam explains the thinking behind the piece: “This image is about the evil and imbalance in our world. Every life is important, whether American or Syrian, and it is right that 9/11 is commemorated every year. But who is commemorating the Syrian casualties?”




Part of the reason that people want to talk about the ‘meaning’ or ‘message’ in Azzam’s work is that his images are so powerful.  (SUPPLIED)

Azzam’s 2013 “Syrian Museum” photomontage series, in which he inserted famous masterpieces into scenes of destruction from the ongoing civil war in his country, garnered international attention. Asked why he juxtaposed Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” with the mangled wreckage of a bombed-out building, he answers: “Besides my love and admiration for Van Gogh, I chose to show his night sky — full of energy and movement — to make a sharp contrast between beauty and destruction.”

Another striking image from the same series shows Paul Gauguin’s “Tahitian Women on the Beach” transplanted into an arid landscape with a UNHCR refugee tent in the background. “This came from seeing women around the camps just sitting and waiting — actually for nothing,” he says. “Gauguin’s women were sitting and contemplating and I just put them in a different location, situation and atmosphere.”

Much of the global attention was focused on “Freedom Graffiti,” which superimposed Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” onto a ruined apartment block. It was the final image in the series and Azzam was taken aback by the publicity it attracted.




160x240 cm, paper collage on canvas, 2019 (Supplied)

“It’s strange, because as an artist I was just creating my work. I don’t know the secret behind that,” he says. “I spent a year working on this project and after the Klimt I felt that there was no need to go further,” he said. “I am always questioning myself: ‘How long am I going to use this technique and why?’”

Azzam studied fine art at Damascus University, specializing in oil painting. And after graduating, he went into graphic design. The combination of those two disciplines clearly informs his work, and he mentions the German-based Syrian artist Marwan Kassab Pashi  — whose workshop he attended at university — as a major influence.

In 2011, Azzam was forced to flee his country. He was assisted by Ayyam Gallery, which has helped him and other artists start new lives in Dubai and Beirut. For Azzam, the pain of leaving was amplified by the loss of his studio and materials, on top of the cultural shift.




The Syrian artist is not particularly interested in adding layers of rumination to what he has already expressed on canvas. (Supplied)

“It took me three years to adjust to living in Dubai. It’s another system and mentality. Everything was different. And very expensive. In Damascus I had my studio and my materials. In Dubai I felt everything was lost; I couldn’t go anymore to the old souk where I used to get my materials,” he says. “Before Dubai I never thought about creating digital art, but because I was a graphic designer for 10 years in Syria, that helped me make the shift.”

After five years in Dubai, he moved to Germany in 2016 taking up a residency at the Hanse Institute for Advanced Studies in Delmenhorst. Once again, he found himself grappling with the challenges of adapting to a new environment, culture and language. In 2018, he moved to Berlin where he now lives. His family is scattered due to the war.

“Like so many Syrian families, we are dispersed around the world,” he says. “It’s sad, but it’s nothing compared to what’s happening to people still in the country and unable to leave. My parents are still in the village where my father, a writer, has his library. He is still writing. They are not in a conflict area, but daily life is difficult with just a few hours of electricity each day and no gas for heating.”




His next show is at Berlin’s Kornfeld gallery in April and that is the focus of Azzam’s carefully structured days at the moment. (Supplied)

His parents, he says, were always supportive of his desire to be an artist. “I was lucky,” he says. “It was my dream from a young age. To be an artist is an endless dream.”

In Germany, his focus recently has been on collage. “It was a new step for me — a big challenge to use a new medium,” he says. Even in this new medium, however, the message remains consistent. One recent work is a representation of a building with its façade blown out, revealing glimpses of wallpaper, painted walls, and fabrics, all exposed to the elements. “I saw so many building like this,” he says. “Totally destroyed with interiors that used to be full of life and color.”

His next show is at Berlin’s Kornfeld gallery in April and that is the focus of Azzam’s carefully structured days at the moment.

“I work every day, alone. It is very important to me to work otherwise I can’t do anything,” he says. “I feel optimistic even with all the bad daily news. We will find good things alongside the bad.”


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
Updated 18 April 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images

DUBAI: Dubai-based beauty mogul Huda Kattan took to Instagram on Saturday to reveal she has taken part in a food drive campaign launched by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The 100 Million Meals mission was launched to provide food parcels to disadvantaged communities across 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa in an effort to combat hunger and malnutrition, exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Kattan announced that she has donated one million meals to those less fortunate via her cosmetics company Huda Beauty.

“It’s hard to believe that in today’s world, in 2021, we’re still dealing with issues of malnutrition and that every ten seconds a child dies because of hunger. This initiative is so incredible and it’s just a reminder of how each and every single one of us has the power to make a change,” said Kattan in a video posted to her Instagram account.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Huda Kattan (@huda)

“I’m so proud to live in a country that prioritizes world hunger,” she said, urging her 2.2 million followers to donate to the charitable initiative.

The 100 Million Meals campaign is an expansion of the 10 Million Meals campaign, which was launched in 2020 to help those worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within a week of its launch, the initiative has raised over $21,200, equivalent to providing more than 78 million meals, as massive donations continue to pour in from individuals and companies inside and outside the UAE.

Kattan is an avid humanitarian and often steps up to help those who need it most.

In June, her cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty, donated $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a civil and human rights organization that provides legal assistance to low-income African Americans, during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests that swept through the US last year. 

Before that, the US-Iraqi beauty mogul pledged to donate $100,000 — to be split between 100 different freelance makeup artists providing them with $1000 each — in a bid to help people in the industry stay afloat financially during the pandemic.


Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
Updated 18 April 2021

Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek

DUBAI: There’s a new fashion week in the region to look forward to. Middle East Fashion Week has announced its inaugural edition in a statement today. The six-day event is scheduled to take place at Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm from May 14-19. 

Unlike the traditional fashion week format we’ve all become accustomed to, Middle East Fashion Week is adopting a unique schedule, with a three-day sustainable fashion forum featuring high-profile international speakers, followed by three days of in-person fashion shows from international and regional designers, a gala dinner and a slew of other VIP events.

CEO of Middle East Fashion Council Simon J Lo Gatto, said in a statement: “Middle Eastern Fashion Week has been created as a platform to allow designers to come together with a unique opportunity to showcase in Dubai and to reach audiences not only across the GCC, but also the larger Indian subcontinent and Europe.”

He added: “Our goal is for the Middle East Fashion Week to become a biannual Fashion Week that acts as a reference point for designers from all corners of the world. Since inception in 2020, MEFC has positioned itself as the world’s first fashion council with sustainability as its core value and long-term objective. The platform was born from an inspiration to tackle climate change and pollution brought on as a direct result of the industry we love.”

The participating designers have yet to be revealed.


Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.
Baked feta pasta.
Updated 18 April 2021

Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.

DUBAI: If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve drooled over one of countless images of baked feta pasta — a dish that went viral this year for that holy grail combination of anyone-can-do-it easiness and blissful deliciousness.

The dish, which consists of feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and pasta, has been blasted all over the For You pages of millennials and Gen Z’ers on TikTok, and as of April 18,  #bakedfetapasta has more than 111.4 million views on the social media platform.

For those looking to whip up the dish for iftar, we asked Iraqi-Canadian chef Faisal Hasoon to share a simple baked feta pasta recipe with an Arab twist. 

The chef incorporates a fresh Middle Eastern flavor by way of roasted red peppers, sliced kalamata olives, a spritz of lemon juice and a sprinkling of zest.  

Baked Feta Pasta

(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

Olive oil 3tbsp

6 cloves garlic (minced)

60g kalamata olives (sliced thin)

250g roasted red peppers (diced)

6 fresh basil leaves (chiffonade)

350g pasta (rigatoni) 

200g feta cheese (Greek, sheep or goat)

1 lemon (zest and juice)

Chilli pepper oil 1tbsp

Dried chilli flakes 1tsp

Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions: 

Step 1: In a medium sized pot bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta as per the instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, drain the remainder and set aside.

Step 2: Starting with a cold pan, cook garlic on low heat in olive oil. Allow it to simmer just before turning golden brown. Be sure not to overcook it as it will become bitter.  Add red chilli flakes and roasted red peppers, let it simmer for a few minutes then add sliced olives. Maintaining low heat and turning with a spatula frequently.

Step 3: Place the whole block of feta into the center of the pan and into the oven at 375 Celsius for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. 

Step 4: Place the pasta into the pan and mix well until all ingredients are well incorporated, adding reserved pasta water as needed.

Step 5: Finish with the zest and juice of one lemon, fresh cracked black pepper and thinly sliced basil. For an extra kick, drizzle over chilli oil and enjoy!

 

 


Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s ‘Voices of the Lost’ is a dark, profound novel

The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied
The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied
Updated 17 April 2021

Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s ‘Voices of the Lost’ is a dark, profound novel

The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied

CHICAGO: Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, “Voices of the Lost,” written by acclaimed Lebanese author Hoda Barakat and newly translated into English by Marilyn Booth, is a dark, profound novel that follows the lives of six men and women who confess their untold truths to their loved ones through letters. None of the letters reaches their intended recipients, however, and their devastating admissions are left to strangers who are then inspired to disclose their own secrets. And through their confessions, a series of letters emerges on life, love and devastating loss.

In an unknown part of the world, where war, poverty and destruction have caused life to veer in unpredictable directions, strangers struggle with the events of the past, both those they were responsible for and those they were victims of, which forced them into lives they neither wanted nor could have ever dreamed of. Split into three parts — for the lost, for the searching, and those left behind — the novel begins with an undocumented immigrant who is writing to an ex-girlfriend. He writes to her of the most profound and disturbing moment in his childhood, one that changed the trajectory of his life forever. From that moment on, life has never quite been the same, and it has led him to a dark place where he cannot mentally, spiritually or physically settle.

Barakat’s novel is a delicate experiment in confession and a testament to the catalyzing power of writing to reveal the truth. Her characters commit their lives to paper without the fear of retribution, confessing their crimes of infidelity, torture and more. None of the writers can return to his or home, to a state of comfort or to the past. Some have lost their countries, while others have simply run out of time.

Barakat’s characters must force themselves to move forward from their past sufferings. Where loved ones and society may not accept their revelations of shortcomings or shame, their confessions are a reconciliation with themselves. And in writing of their pain, they connect with one another. They are not alone, no matter how lonely the act of writing a letter can be. And in a moment of consciousness, awake in their confessions, Barakat’s characters reach a spiritual peak within themselves, one that pushes them to continue surviving.

 


US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Updated 17 April 2021

US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images

DUBAI: US actress Yara Shahidi is developing a new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions. The part-Middle Eastern star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World,” alongside her mother and business partner Keri Shahidi and Brown for ABC Signature.

“Honored to bring @coletdbrown’s incredible & nuanced telling of our stories as brown folx onto screens w/ my PARTNER IN CRIME @chocolatemommyluv! (sic)” wrote the 21-year-old on Instagram, alongside a screenshot of a Deadline article announcing the news of the series.

“The work of displaying and celebrating the ENTIRE spectrum of our humanity continues to feel more prescient (sic),” she added.

Published in 2020, “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” is a first-hand account of what it’s like to navigate life in America as a mixed-race adolescent. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author.

According to the author, the book is heavily inspired by an essay he wrote in college.

“What a dream come true this is!” exclaimed Cole on Instagram. “It still astounds me to think that what began as a college essay a few years ago has made it all the way to ABC. No duo I’d rather work with to bring Greyboy to life than @yarashahidi & @chocolatemommyluv. Let’s get to work! (sic),” the author posted on social media.

Back in September, Shahidi took to social media to praise Cole’s debut book, writing that “his honest reflections on the way in which racial identity takes shape and shape-shifts through his own experiences feels intimate, and yet taps in to the common experience of moving through space as a black and brown person.” She added that “It’s been a must-read in our household!”

“Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” isn’t the only project that the “Grown-ish” star is currently working on. 

The US-Iranian actress and activist is also producing a new single-camera comedy series, titled “Smoakland,” for Freeform via her production company 7th Sun.

The rising star and her mother announced the launch of their new production company in July and signed an exclusive overall deal with ABC Studios which will see them develop television projects for streaming, cable and broadcast platforms.