Syrian Art Documentary- Mohamad Hafez

Syrian Art Documentary- Mohamad Hafez


Hello viewers, this is Corine Farhat welcoming you to this episode where we talk about the integrated strings of art and architecture, alienation and nostalgia to a home country All of this with Mohamad Hafez, the Syrian architect and artist whom I met at his studio in New Haven, Connecticut, in the U.S. Between Syria and Saudi Arabia, Mohamad traveled, before he settled in the U.S. to continue his studies. For this reason, he lived a life of continuous nostalgia And because of this steady nostalgia to his home country, he started building models of Old Damascus from different materials I prefer not to talk… because like any other Syrian living either in Syria or outside of it, we have inside of us a tremendous amount of grief This work is done as a creative outlet for me, as a person witnessing his country .. ripped apart into million pieces… And I am one of these voices capturing this tragedy My name is Mohamad Hafez, an architect from Syria and (I hope) an artist as well I was born in Damascus and lived in it for one year and then we moved to Saudi Arabia Since my childhood days, I used to always play with Lego as a kid, I had a passion for collaging things together… After 16 years in Saudi Arabia, my father decided to retire When I returned to Syria… it was that period of time where discovery and falling in love with my homeland occured. That pace of life; you would feel the whole country as if it was a heart pumping with life… So truly this was what captivated me when I first lived in Syria The reason that made me leave the country was to reach my dream in pursuing an architectural degree from an American University After my dream came true and I came to America… I discovered that the Student Visa was for a single entry only… So as an aftermath, I got stuck here for about 8 years unable to visit home. so.. this triggered in me, a severe home sickness and longing for my country And this homesickness was what pushed me to start working in the (university’s) studio… to remodel Old Damascus from scraps I found in the Studio So the first piece was- and I still remember vividly that night… I was sitting there, missing my family very much… So I collected all the leftover scrap pieces of wood, metal and other materials and installed them together And after 3 or 4 hours, I looked at it and there it was.. An art piece that looked like Old Damascus. The amount of details I included in it in these 4 hours and the realism that this piece reflected … caused me to realize that this could be a beneficial path for me; In the sense that I can recreate a part of home, that I have been longing for a long time… I absolutely cherish the day to day life in Syria, almost in Holy way. So when I made the tiles, when you see this respectful old woman this to me, reflects the memories that I still remember about Syria Façades was when I first started working with plaster And this was a very essential stage in how to construct a piece from scratch aiming that when the piece is finished, it would look like a thousand year old wall from Syria Façades were like an exploration in the weathering and aging techniques used in my work And this was a transitional point because when I progressed to the bigger stage of work, the heavier work, the larger work, I had the skills to make work that is lighter in weight with more realism to it Since I was young, I always had an admiration for graffiti as a way of expression on architecture Also, writing is another way of expression that humans leave behind… We are a society that is predominately religious or spiritual This series was an exploration in Arabic writing and Quran’s verses and the Middle Eastern heritage in general The diaspora opens your eyes .. and this is common among all expatriates I believe- … when I left Syria, I realized how many things I am greatly attached to.. The greatest of these things was the social life. And you can see that in my work… Unsettled Nostalgia; the state of indefinitive nostalgic feelings: The neighboring balconies… the laundry lines going from one house to the other… someone setting a phone in the balcony… the other is having his radio turned on to “Om Kalthoum”. These are layers of society, layers of life… and these very layers are the treasure of our country We were raised never caring about color, sect, or religion and this is truly what I miss the most… When I first returned to Syria it was in 2011 I spent most of my time walking in Old Damascus I held these moments so valuable to me… I realized, this is the treasure that we have in our society I spent hours walking with my phone in my hand recording the sounds and conversations around me, and part of these recording were taken in the courtyard of the “Umayyad Mosque” I would enter the mosque where kids were playing, the call for prayer being announced, Chanting is taking place, the merchants nearby talking to each other The same theme was repeated in different areas other mosques… churches…streets…coffee shops I had captured all of these recordings during a state of peace… when I recorded them… I didn’t know why I recorded them… Perhaps …there was a voice within me… that was telling me “Record. This may be the last time you are present in your country.” (Islamic Chanting and church choral chanting side by side) Because of my thirst and longing for the country, I was seeing everything from a different perspective … After 4 years of war and destruction, and as I was working on my new pieces, I found these recordings by mistake… In my new work that perhaps acknowledges the status quo , the destruction… the pessimistic image of our land… I add into the work my recordings that I captured five years ago (Mohamad’s recording of the Athan (call to prayer) taken in Syria ) An art piece that captures the current reality And in that piece, there is a recording that captures the past reality And between the past and the current… the viewer is taken into a journey of discovery that is heavy emotionally I still remember the first time I played the audio in “Collateral Damage” with the Athan playing… My wife and I cried we were seeing the destruction of our own country Let me just tell you… for someone to remodel the destruction of his country by his own hands to reconstruct it as a model to show the world, that in itself… is not an easy task… It is not easy for any artist to look through real photos of destruction, the blood, and displacement from his country to study the details from these photos only to reconstruct it into an extremely detailed art form, that plays a recording he himself took from his country before the war “I aim to reflect, through my work, the destruction in Syria to raise awareness about whats happening on ground there” – Mohamad Hafez Hello again, I am Corine Farhat welcoming you The war in Syria caused an important shift in the work of Mohamad Hafez Which reflects the size of the humanitarian tragedy in his homeland which has suffered and is continuing to suffer from a war that ripped it apart adding audio recordings in his work that he recorded himself during his last visit to Syria before the war fusing death boats carrying refugees with the sound of Mosques’ call to prayer Merging laughter of kids playing in the courtyard of the Ummayad Mosque with the bells of churches. As well as artwork depicting total destruction and much more… Where his art reflects the diversity, coexistence, and religious tolerance in Syria before the war This is a way of self-expression… A way of expressing pain The pain of one witnessing this heritage over thousands of years… turn into dust in front of his eyes And humans can be naive sometimes… in the sense that we think that wars and crisis, are very distant from us. And could never affect us. So recently, I started telling some personal stories about me and my family And they are about people who are very close to me Who left the country and rode one of these death refugee boats… The issue then takes a completely different dimension So in my recent piece, Desperate Cargo, I wanted to talk and explain to the world what is so devastating on ground that leads people to immigrate so desperately like this… Desperate Cargo is a boat similar to the refugee boats inflated and turned upside down as if it had capsized… suspended from the ceiling; just like the forgotten thousands of refugees… Suspended… With no past, no present, and no future… And inside the cavity of the boat You can see… Sort of devastated cities inside of it When you examine the work… you look up and see the military airplanes shelling It has a sound system so that one could experience the shelling as it was recorded from actual video footage from Syria. To give an idea that these people -crossing the Mediterranean Sea – are fleeing terrorism in their country… (Shooting and shelling sounds) As an artist, and far from politics, I feel that the world is suffering from a global moral and conscience crisis. Of course I cannot capture the true tragedy which is the human life… Because there is nothing more precious than the human life. But I can capture, in a way, the cities that embraced these beautiful lives that we lost And write “Enter it (Heaven) in peace, for eternity” a verse from the Quran stenciled on a facade I cannot console someone who lost most of his family… I cannot speak to him or her an “Earthly” language… I must speak to them, a “Heavenly” Language, a Spiritual language Because only such spiritual phrases can cool the fire inside of them…and ease their pain. due to the amount of Oppression that we have experienced… I feel that even the walls are speaking And graffiti is the best way to allow these “walls” to speak.. When a piece for example… is depicting destruction … And in the middle of it there is a phrase that reads “And your Lord said call upon me and I shall answer you” It gives a kind of hope to continue living a message that I aim to deliver to Syrians specifically… That there is hope indeed, God willing “Al Hamdulilah” … (Praise to God) is a phrase I like to include in my work because it is a universal phrase Because it is not possible for someone to counter their struggles and dark reality.. unless there was a belief in a God that knows best “Malek Al Moulk” (the Owner of all possessions) captures the pain of losing the lives of children in the conflict To Him we shall return is a way of saying We belong to God and to Him we shall return “Internal Conflict” resembles how societies are able to bisect itself and have the people ask you “which side are you with?” We differentiated between Sunni a and a Shiite and Christian, nor sectarianism, we had non of that! This harmony had always existed in Syria Some pieces are devoted specifically to show this fact The process sometimes starts with a sketch Or, sometimes I find the objects that I want to use Most of my work is taken from found objects that I find for example, I may find a rusted strainer… it might be a strainer today; however, when I’m done with it, it may become a screen to some window Eventually, I wanted the work to get bigger and to have a greater depth to it These marbles are from Damascus They are very important to me I try to include them in my pieces so that I have a part of Syria in every piece that I make “Mama, I don’t know how to swim” is an instillation that started with some refugee kids who recently arrived to the U.S. The work sheds light on the danger of the journey of crossing the Mediterranean Sea And the amount of people who lost their lives as a price of going on such dangerous journey One hundred and twenty paper boats Every boat symbolizes 62 martyrs hung by fishing hooks and weights similar in shape to the mortar shells falling from the sky pulling them down to drown them in the sea One paper boat=62 martyrs who drowned in search of a better life 120 paper boats=More than 7440 died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea searching for a better life between 2014 and early 2016 (Source: UNHCR) “Refugee Nation” or as you could call it in Arabic… The nation of the lost… is an art piece that shows the new aesthetic our cities have taken… How these cities turned from beautiful historic cities into a collection of vast destruction filled with pain and memories carried inside suitcases creating the emotional “Baggage” of immigrants. The piece itself has an audio recording that I took from inside the Umayyad Mosque before the war. Syria to me is … my identity that I spent years searching for in the diaspora… and it this beautiful memory from which I get my inspiration for a better future and inspiration for new artwork It will be an honor to me, God willing, if I returned one day and had a role in rebuilding this beautiful country But what I say to my family and loved ones is that… God willing, Syria will return as it was and even better… In the end I want to thank you for watching and would like to remind you about our Facebook page “Almajallashow” You can also reach me using the show’s email “ [email protected]” And I shall see you next week at the same time

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