Syria Speaks is a compilation of works by over fifty artists and writers from Syria, both established names such as Ali Ferzat and Samar Yazbek and new voices. Celebrating the creativity and expression of people experiencing the violence and oppression in Syria it has been edited by Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen and Nawara Mahfoud. Halasa has curated exhibitions of Syria’s art of resistance in the West, Omareen is a Syrian writer and Mahfoud is a Syrian journalist and documentary producer. Whilst creating the book they did ask themselves what place there was for art amongst such suffering, but realised that ‘creativity is not only a way of surviving the violence but of challenging it’.
The 312 page book is full of examples of literature, songs, poems, cartoons, posters, paintings, puppet shows and other means of expression that artists have found to convey their feelings and thoughts about the situation in Syria. It is not simple on the ground. No one backs the regime. But some have lost their ability to back the revolution as it has become so complicated. Now instead of one enemy there are many.
Contemporary art has not had the acceptance and publicity that it has in the West. The revolutionary posters and performances that have appeared are a new phenomenon for Syrians who have endured a forty year silence.
The book begins with an anonymous blurred photo montage of the victims of the 1982 Hama uprising. This has not been mentioned in Syria for years, even though an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 people were killed by government troops. The built up resentment over this atrocity came out when protestors met extreme violence in 2011. The peaceful revolution was soon militarised.
The artists and writers work in different ways. There are personal tales – one writer tells of phoning a friend’s mobile phone and being told he is dead. There are diaries of travels around the region, whilst history and background is also provided, making an in-depth examination of the conflict from the point of view of artists and writers caught up in it. The influence of manga and a satirical script for a TV show – Who wants to kill a million? are also included. There is also an examination of the challenges facing citizen journalists in this most Youtubed of revolutions.
Densely-filled with information, Syria Speaks is a thorough exploration of creativity in a country at war and shows the importance that the arts have in a time of violent revolution.