The Syrian civil war broke in 2011 and since then an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes. Many of those who ran away from the war are writers, singers and artists. According to Slate, many cartoonists operate in "liminal spaces" where they cannot sign or associate themselves with their work for their own safety.
The Art Newspaper reports that most of the country's notable artists left to lead better, perhaps safer lives in the Gulf. These artists are also thriving because of the "free flowing art scene" and "young collectives". A few according to the journal have moved to Turkey, Cairo and Europe.
Art in multiple forms has the power to break shackles and make the viewer/listener introspect. British Council in 2014 had launched a space for Syrian artists to show how artists can break boundaries, support and unite communities, re-interpret and offer alternative viewpoints through their practice. While many are using provocative images and drawings to depict their experiences of conflict and exile, violinist Alaa Arsheed under the brand Alpha Art released a music album that sums up his journey from Syria to Italy.
In an interview with Quartz, the artist says, "We can show the world that we still have hope. We can turn our pain into music and art, and our voices will be louder than war and dictatorships."
Al Suwaida is a song named after the town the artist hails from, where his family owned a gallery. According to Quartz, the town served as a place where poets and activists to discuss events, art and philosophy. Their gallery was destroyed by the president's supporters who chanted that they wanted revenge. Arsheed moved to Lebanon where he met Alessandro Gassman, an Italian director who was filming, Torn — a film about Syrian artist refugees. Fabrica, a communications research centre in Treviso offered a scholarship to Arsheed to go to Italy and work on his album after Alessandro had tweeted about him.
Profound, hopeful and moving
Arsheed's album is hopeful but has thoughtful interludes that reek of nostalgia and the composition has been beautifully written to hint at suffering and loss. Al Suwaida is is replete with artificial harmionics and bariolage as he alternates between static and changing notes which adeptly define his inner turmoil and yearning for the past.
Alpha Art is perhaps one of the best songs of the album, the fast paced song sounds like a call for a retaliation from refugees to fight back, organise and build a better Syria. Palmyra is reminiscent of a vibrant cultural scene from unblemished and functioning Syria, perhaps an ode to the country that once was. Hope, as the last song on the album is both sad and energetic in bursts. The artist is quoted in Quartz as saying, "Europeans are not seeing the other side of Syrian culture,” says Arsheed. “We are not just miserable refugees, as the media is trying to portray us. I want to break this stereotype that we have been forced into."
Listen to the songs here: