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Virtual Agoras – Six videos from Syria inspired by the events of the Uprising

Bullet by Khaled Abdelwahed


Virtual Agoras
Curated by Charlotte Bank
2012. 10. 07. 14:00 De Balie, Amsterdam

The video program Virtual Agoras, curated by Charlotte Bank, previously screened at KW Institute for Contemporary Art as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale and at an Impakt Event in June is now on show in De Balie, Amsterdam, on the 7th of October.

The program consists of six videos from Syrian artists, each presenting an artistic response to the traumatic events of the Syrian Uprising from its very own perspective – be it a silent mourner’s or a stouthearted young protester’s – showing some hope or painting a perfectly dark image of the future, but they all stand as bold, powerful statements against an oppressive regime.

Shortly after the riots broke out President Bashar Al-Assad has barred international media from entering the country. This evoked people to take over the responsibility of delivering news – the media outlet relied solely on these citizen journalists who would document the unfolding events in the process of developing and spread them on different social-media platforms, such as facebook, twitter and youtube all over the internet. Creative videos expressing people’s feelings about the uprising, commenting and criticizing the way it was represented in the official Syrian media and the impuissance of the West appeared simultaneously with those documenting the protests and the escalating violence on the streets.

Smuggling 23 Minutes of Revolution (2011) is closer to those videos documenting and reporting the events, as the title already indicates, smuggling the news through the borders, focusing on the city of Hama. In 1982, after violent clashes between government forces and Muslim Brotherhood, then-President Hafez Al-Assad ordered troops into the restive city of Hama. For three weeks Syrian tanks and planes bombarded Hama while soldiers airlifted in by helicopter carried out house-to-house searches and on-the-spot executions. Estimates of the total number of civilians who died in the siege range widely between 10,000 and 45,000. In Smuggling 23 Minutes of Revolution we hear witnesses’ stories of the 1982 Hama Massacre and nowadays happenings, and as they talk we feel the anxiety of the people, the fear of history repeating itself.

The Sun’s Incubator (2011) by Ammar Al-Beik plays with our stereotypical expectations – it opens with a scene of a man washing his hands making the water red – instantly, we think of blood, but a few seconds later we realize he is rinsing out red paint from the brushes which he used to paint a protest slogan. Al-Beik gives us an insight into a young family’s life entwined with the events of the Arab Spring – the demonstrations against Mubarak in Egypt and the death of a 13-year-old Syrian boy who was arrested, terribly tortured and killed during the protests in Daara. We follow these events together with the family through TV screens as we see them getting ready and leave for a protest. After the shocking report about the Syrian child martyr on TV we witness as a baby is born to the family. Misery and hope come hand-in-hand in this film.

The video LIBERTé, which “could be by Philip Horani” as the closing title mentions, is a painting performance overlapping found footage of the protests, complemented with the sounds of demonstrations, gunshots, bombing and explosions. Horani uses watercolor to sketch up how a demonstration is quelled by the government forces – but eventually the blood-soaked picture transforms into the flag of the Syrian opposition. His work is very similar to Mohamad Omran and Dani Abo Louh’s Conte de printemps (2011) which tells a story about no matter how many times the protests are crushed the Syrian people will stand up again. Compared to the powerful rawness of Horani’s LIBERTé, Conte de printemps is more delicate, yet melancholic as we see the crumbled paper-cut figures stand up again, the camera showing their desperate expressions, accompanied by a dramatic opera aria.

Khaled Abdelwahed’s stop-motion animation, the Bullet (2011) combines the tradition of street-art as the most basic and powerful tool to get a (political) message to the public while remaining anonym with the digital video technique, transforming graffiti into motion picture.

Bloodshed (2012) by Eyas Al-Mokdad operates with strongly manipulated – distorted and color-filtered – images showing symbolic objects of oppression. These long shots of black army boots, military awards, and the blinding light of an interrogation lamp create a very tense atmosphere that turns into a silent tribute to the martyrs in the last scene with an endless river of blood flowing.

Though these videos were made using various techniques, such as found footage, animation, stop-motion or performance – sometimes combined in one video – and many of them apply different kinds of visual effects too, they all bear the signs of being quick, spontaneous reactions to the events, as the erupting unrest and the increasing state violence spreading all over the country urged the artists to act immediately. To raise awareness and get the message through to the public as soon and as bold as possible – this is what activist art is about.

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  1. [...] Bank collected and preserved videoworks of Syrian artists who are often forced to life in exile.Read more in detail on the six videos on our festival blogThis second screening is organised in collaboration with De Balie with the support of HIVOS.    [...]