Syria/ 8.3 Arts and cultural education  

8.3.5 Basic out-of-school arts and cultural education

Sociocultural contributions were very little in Syria, except for some efforts that were carried out by some civil societies and which were concerned with the preservation of heritage.

In 2011, the Syrian society lived an exceptional political movement which different types of art were the most important forms of expression, as one of many forms of “peaceful struggle”. Civil activists and demonstrators created strong and effective forms of expressions whose intention was primarily political, that contributed to building a civil rhetoric through which activists address the rest of Syrians before the rest of the world. Artistic expressional forms became a property for all as any person could sketch caricatures and then be carried by demonstrators in the streets or any poet could write two verses of poetry and then be written on a sign, in addition to creating expressional forms like coloring the water of fountains in Damascus with red, as a strong hint to the Syrian bloodshed.

In the following, there is a description of some peaceful activities in which art and politics are combined together with the beat of the street that seems to be re-establishing the conceptions of art and culture and using them to oppose an excessive repression adopted by the Syrian regime to suppress the uprising.

The eye of the truth…when magic turns against the magician!

A different kind of targeting devoted by the Syrian security forces for “the citizen journalist” who has decided to cover the events happening on the ground by a mobile phone camera, then upload it to the internet, as works of arresting and sniping have included a huge amount of recorders/mobile phone carriers during the uprising. Simply…magic turned against the magician, post March 15, 2011.

“With no doubt, video stripes in the Syrian Revolution own an exceptional news and documentary quality resulted by prohibiting and having informational methods absent in the arena of events. However, aside with informational quality, these stripes own – with different ratios of course – a special expressive and artistic quality which deserves to be stopped upon and have their details deeply studied, especially that they seem as if they were establishing for a new Syrian cinema[1]. On another level, the role of the venturing recorder is represented in those stripes as a prominent role, as a mobile phone is considered not only a device but also a part of the recorder’s body through which are reflected all circumstances of surrounding threats and killings, especially if we take into consideration that those who are carrying mobile-phone cameras are the same ones who are the number one target in demonstrations for snipers which makes the image in the Syrian case equal a thousand bullets instead of a thousand words[2].”

The image when it’s beating with life:

“Art and Freedom” page on Facebook was founded in June 2011. One of its important founders is the plastic artist, Yousef Abdalki (he has been arrested and detained since July 2013 and as of completing the report) who’s been famous for opposing the policies of the regime even before the revolution broke out.  The case of “Art and Freedom” page is simply like the case of a large amount of artists inside and outside Syria who have decided to express their objection to what’s happening using the color and form as a peaceful resisting act which has of an artistic quality what it has of a documenting quality now/here.

Some groups that are concerned with designing a political poster contributed to presenting posters of an informational welfare instinct such as (multimedia group) which is associated with the General Commission of the Revolution. Others intended to present a unique idea like the case of the initiative (stamps of the Syrian revolution) that works on reproducing stamps that carry pictures of the events and effective figures of the uprising. Amongst those groups, outstands a group that calls itself ‘Syrian People Know Their Path’. This group has started launching meaningful posters along with the start of the Arab Spring in both Tunisia and Egypt, and then condensed its activity with the spread of revolution into Syria to present creative suggestions of opposing posters. Surprisingly, this group does not have any designers, however, on the contrary, it consists of a group of youngsters who have various educational backgrounds starting with philosophy and trade and extending to fine arts[3].

Virtual space – free space for expression

 Like all Arab revolution countries, virtual space was an important space to exchange. Privacy in the Syrian revolution (and as a result of its long duration and being far from being organized through social communication networks), is a drift of the virtual space which transforms by its majority and not all to a use more likely to be “free expression” whether through writing, visual arts or video, etc.

The new dealing with cities spaces

Clear artistic particles appear in most of the techniques of the popular movement in expressing itself and its opposition to the regime starting with slogans passing through signs and ending with forms of gathering and group movements. Because the need is the mother of invention, resorting to more creative solutions for expressing, delivering messages and continuing the protest was increasing with the increase of repression and tightening by the regime’s forces. After the two experiences, the Tunisian and the Egyptian, the Syrian regime realized quickly the importance of conquering the space of public squares to restrict any expected revolutionary extensions. “Who invades the square, invades the city”, this is what the previous revolutions (the Egyptian in particular) have taught us. However, the regime got what it wished for through tightening the guard of big squares in the main cities from one side and through force in the demonstrations that started moving from the outskirts of the cities towards the squares (Abbasids square in particular) from another.

People started, after they were prevented from gathering in the squares, demonstrating in their neighborhoods and a lot of the revolution chanters started to appear and lead the demonstrations. Syrian protestors sang for freedom and swayed to the melodies of the chanting as video stripes showed swaying and chanting groups from far south in Dar’a, to far north in Idlib.

“The tasks of these chanting celebrations were not restricted to the visual amazement only, but worked as well on delivering significant political messages that strive to restrain the stories by the Syrian authority and its rhetoric legitimacy. Ahmad Qashoush, Hama’s famous singer, might be one of the most obvious examples ever with his song that has become so famous[4]. “

Socio-cultural interventions in Syria are very rare, with the exception of few efforts carried out by civil associations, such the Damascus Friends Association which seeks to preserve the Damascene heritage in particular.

The Intangible Heritage Documentation Project launched by MOC's Popular Heritage Revival Department in cooperation with the directorates of culture is a key initiative in this field where these departments work jointly with a number of independent figures (writers, intellectuals, researchers and some interested individuals) and civil associations involved in the preservation of local heritage to form committees in charge of collecting and documenting various aspects of intangible heritage in all governorates.

In a period of three and a half years, artistic forms of expression have proliferated and increased to an extent that they need to be documented and archived. Numerous websites have emerged that are doing the work, the last of which and most organized if the “Creative memory of Syria” website.

[1]Culture Resists, Prince Klaus’s Institution, issued in 2012, Pg.6, Mobile-phone Cinema, Image worth a Thousand Bullets.

[2] Culture Resists, Prince Klaus’s Institution, issued in 2012, Pg.7, Mobile-phone Cinema, Image worth a Thousand Bullets.

[3]Culture Resists, Prince Klaus’s Institution, issued in 2012, Pg.45, Word in Face of Bullet, Political Poster.

[4]Culture Resists, Prince Klaus’s Institution, issued in 2012, Pg.37, Revolution’s Carnivals.

Chapter published: 09-05-2016