Here’s a brief Q&A with Syrian artist Ali Kaaf that I found on Syria Today (all text (and the photo) that follows (except for the smiley face) is from Syria Today and is edited only minutely in format).:
Earlier this fall, Rafia Gallery hosted Ali Kaaf’s second solo exhibition in Syria. The show inaugurates a new chapter for the young Syrian painter as he returns to Damascus from a 12-year hiatus in Berlin. Syria Today spoke with Kaaf about his artistic process and his return to his roots.
By Nouna al-Dimashqiya
Photo Adel Samara
How do you feel about returning to Syria and exhibiting your work here?
Every time I have an exhibit in Syria, I feel more apprehensive and anxious than I would in Europe. It is difficult for me because this is my homeland. I was raised here, and then I embarked on artistic study and development in Lebanon and Germany. But my roots are here. Syria is also where my life as an artist began; it is not a neutral place for me by any means. I am not able to easily separate myself from the emotion and memories that I feel here, which is something I do not experience when I exhibit in Europe. But this unique and deeply personal context always proves an excellent experience for me. Exhibiting in Syria always gives me a new sense of motivation.
Your work is deeply thematic. Tell us about what concerns you as you take on an artistic project.
I am deeply moved by something the poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote: ‘Happiness need not be expressed in art. One just lives it. Art comes from injury.’ This conflict is the crux of my artistic endeavours – the challenge of creating an image that portrays a sentiment, a state of being, and the many polar dichotomies that fill the human experience. Nothing in life is static. Little is as it seems. Conflict is everywhere.
I am not interested in aesthetics, in making something beautiful. I relish the challenge of catching and representing an idea, making it visual, then translating it into material. And I choose my medium accordingly: black and white, paper, gelatine, fire, glass. The fragility and risk involved in working on paper and with glass embody the impermanence with which I am theoretically concerned.
I have been quite busy in the last few months with exhibitions in Europe. I miss being in the studio. The winter in Damascus will offer me time to concentrate solely on my work, to spend my time in the studio and allow ideas and concepts to marinate. Damascus is an amazing place to work. It’s for me much more intimate, personal, rife with unanswered questions, dilemmas, memories – all rich juice for my creative process. I am working in cooperation with fellow artists – two German and one Peruvian – on a project for an exhibition in 2011. We’d like to establish a project and work together making art in Damascus inspired by Damascus.