Syrian artist shares her feelings at having to leave her native Syria
Sara Shamma was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1975 and has been creating artworks since she was a young child with the support and encouragement of her family. By age 14, Shamma decided she would train as a painter and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus in 1998. She was then invited to join the teaching staff of the Adham Ismail Fine Arts Institute in Damascus where she taught for three years. Besides her own practice and her involvement in the education of young artists, Shamma has been consistently active on the Syrian art scene.
In her latest exhibition, ‘Diaspora’, which is on display at Art Sawa until Thursday November 30, the 39-year-old reflects on fleeing her homeland in search of a new life.
‘The paintings are about people in diaspora. I wouldn’t say just Syrians. They could be any man, woman or child obliged to leave their homeland to try and establish a life elsewhere. They carry with them the fragments of their lives and the memories of peace while they chase one common dream – the dream of a new peace,’ explains Shamma.
The exhibition consists of 12 paintings, half of which are the last works she completed in her native homeland, the other half created in Lebanon, her new home.
‘I moved from Damascus at the end of 2012 when the situation deteriorated significantly, and went with my two young children to Lebanon, to the hometown of my mother. I shipped out all my paintings, canvases, colours and brushes. My husband remained in Damascus because of his business, risking the roads to come to see us every weekend,’ she says.
Shamma possessed an international reputation long before the pictures presented in this exhibition were made. She has been the recipient of major prizes in Britain and Australia, and has participated regularly in major international exhibitions in Germany and the UAE, but because of the current situation in her native Syria, both tragic and dramatic as all the world now knows, the images that make up ‘Diaspora’ possess a special resonance and are perhaps the most powerful of the paintings she has created over the course of her distinguished career.
‘My country is destroyed and Lebanon is not very stable. The future is blurry and worrying. I think that this is the status of most Syrians living this diaspora, one of the significant side-effects of what is happening there,’ she says.
Some of the works play with the idea of double vision. There are also moments when the swirls of paint threaten to swallow forms completely, and reduce them to incoherent chaos.
‘I usually work on a theme but I didn’t on this project. I just painted without any planning. I wanted to reveal my subconscious because it is the source of inspiration and creation in the same way. I can see my son in one painting and my daughter in another, as well as my own self-portrait. The rest are imaginary people, because I like to create people. When it’s finished it will become real for me in a very strange way.’
The style of the canvases are bold and demonstrate Shamma’s firm grip on three-dimensional form. Some paintings are rendered in near monochrome but they are juxtaposed with bold swirls of paint.
‘As with many other populations in history, it seems that it is the turn of the Syrians to flee their homeland and scatter around the world. This is a real diaspora because it forms a mass dispersion of an involuntary nature; of a group of people maintaining a myth about their peaceful homeland. They regard the cities they left as their true home, to which they will eventually return; they are committed to the restoration or rebuilding of that homeland and they still do not really believe what has happened,’ Shamma says.
Underlying all the images in ‘Diaspora’ is a powerful, unmistakable feeling of anxiety – an emotion focused on senses and on the threat to her children rather than herself. Free. Sat-Thu 10am-7pm. Until November 30. Art Sawa, Building 8, Gate Village, DIFC (04 386 2366).