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Beirut…the oxygen for Syrian artists

For many Syrian artists Beirut has been a place to reconnect with their art and to get a respite from the violence tearing apart their homeland. In estimation, 80 to 85 percent of galleries and art venues in Damascus have either closed or are not currently doing any programming. Anoujoum reports the views of few who had the chance to exhibit their art.
“The desire by international collectors for Syrian art has not declined and, in some senses, the appetite for it has grown as the conflict has become more entrenched.”
Said Aileen Agopian, a senior international specialist of contemporary art at Sotheby’s in New York.  “There has definitely been an upward trajectory in terms of prices and the desire to collect Syrian art. But I think that has to do with the quality of what is out there. The politics maybe shines a bit more of a light, but the art speaks for itself and people understand how important many of these artists are to the contemporary art world.”
Diana Al-Hadid sold her piece “Self Melt” for $42,500 at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Doha.
Iman Hasbani, a Damascus-based installation and performance artist, had not done any personal work for the past two years, instead focusing on using art therapy to help children who had been affected by the war in Syria. “In the beginning I just wanted to relax and lay in the grass,” she said when she first arrived to Beirut.  “It was very important for me to reconnect with myself, and slowly I was able to get an idea for a performance piece about my relationship to the earth.”
Beirut galleries, seeing the international interest in collecting Syrian art, have jumped on the bandwagon.
Khaled Samawi, the founder of Ayyam Gallery, said he was proud to see so many Syrian artists showing in Beirut. “The Syrian art scene is probably more vibrant today in Beirut than it ever was in Damascus,” . From June until August his galleries in Beirut and Dubai hosted “Syria’s Apex Generation,” showcasing six contemporary artists.
“It is good to see something nice coming out of Syria, while all the history is being demolished and wiped out, the culture is actually being maintained by galleries and collectors throughout the world.”
Syrian artists say that they have felt very welcomed into the Beirut art scene, with Lebanese artists, galleries and museums interested in their stories and their work.
Houmam Al Sayed left Damascus almost two years ago because he felt he was suffocating from the violence.
He had a one-man show at the Beirut Mark Hachem Gallery and he said that Lebanese and Syrian artists were in sync on many things. “We go out together, we discuss, we meet”
“The desire by international collectors for Syrian art has not declined”
Two years ago, in the beautiful country side, Ms. Raghad Mardini a Beirut-based Syrian civil engineer founded the “Art Residence Aley” (named after the village where it’s located) because she wanted to introduce young Syrian artists to the Beirut art scene and to hold exhibitions. “Beirut is the closest thing to Damascus; there is a big community of Syrian artists here, so it has become the hub of Syrian art,” Mardini said.
A show entitled “Art of Resilience”  was open in early July ,which showcased more than 250 art pieces and a few of the artists, have been invited to participate in recent shows in Berlin and at the World Bank headquarters in Washington.
Along with many artists who have moved to Beirut, either full time or part time, some Damascus contemporary art galleries have also moved some or all of their operations to the Lebanese capital. Samer Kozah, whose gallery was opened in Damascus in 1994, closed it two years ago and moved full time to Beirut; he has not reopened his gallery there but works on various projects focused around Syrian art, including founding the Syrian Contemporary Art Fair Beirut, which will take place again this November.
“Really, Beirut is like the oxygen for Syrian artists”.

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