We Are Staying - نحن باقون
Alina Gallo’s mural installation in the SPACE annex is a graphic rendering of an urban environment in Syria. It is a composite of images and descriptions of Aleppo, Saraqib, Hama, Homs, Damascus and Daraa taken from conventional and social media sources over the last three years. Here, disparate geographies and unorganized moments in time overlay each other, reflecting both a fragmented understanding of these accounts, and the conscious and unconscious attempts to recompose a potential reality.
Alina will be working for two weeks painting directly on the wall using classic egg tempera prepared by hand.
Following the onset of the Arab Spring, I began a series of contemporary miniature paintings chronicling key events from the Middle East region.
In early 2012, the Syrian government launched airstrikes and mortar attacks on populated neighborhoods to crush the rising revolution, killing and detaining hundreds of civilians. That February, acclaimed journalists Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin died while on assignment in Syria, bringing further attention to the spreading conflict. And the deaths of many other photographers and journalists were to follow.
Since that time, the Syrian War has become one of most tragic conflicts since the Second World War. More than 200,000 people have lost their lives, millions of refugees have flooded into neighboring countries, and millions more have been displaced internally. The conflict has taken on the form of multiple proxy wars, involving the interests and interventions of many regional and global powers. Drawn to understand the increasingly shocking and complex evolution of the Arab Spring, I began researching and reaching out to make contact with those effected by this crisis.
The relative absence of journalists on the ground within the changeable margins of this war-zone has turned the multitude of raw-footage, photographs, documentary snippets and staged fabrications into the primary source of information, even for large news agencies.
No longer only in the form of the familiar, neat and researched articles, this sea of fragmented and stratified documentations come forth filtered by chance as well as by multiple, calculated and unknowable internal dialectics and interests. The immediacy and ease in which we communicate, organize and encounter each other online is magnifying the intensity of our togetherness, and producing intentional and unintentional ways in which we potentially affect each other.
How do we process, recompose and interpret this multitude of information? What are the outcomes of our interpretations? Do we have a responsibility to attempt to assemble this information for ourselves?
We are Staying is a graphic rendering of an urban environment in Syria. It is a composite of images and descriptions of Aleppo, Saraqeb, Hama, Homs, Damascus and Daraa taken from conventional and social media sources over the last three years. Some elements of this compound city include a horse decorated for the celebration of Eid al-Adha, a guard post of a Liwaa al-Sultan Mrad brigade member, a mosque destroyed, an overturned car, damaged yet inhabited apartments, hanging sheets to obscure a sniper’s line of sight, and a foosball table.
The graffiti elements in this painting are inspired by city walls that have become marked and layered with pro-government threats, revolutionary slogans and expressions of hope, memorial and desperation; a fluid partial record of the ongoing conflict.
Many of the writings come from the town of Saraqib, where groups of friends and families have painted walls to express themselves peacefully. Some of the slogans mean: “All our love to those who are gone,” “Together we are more beautiful, you are still my brother,” “Nothing is impossible,” “In the grand departure I will love you more” and “We are like the moon, we have a dark side.”
I have included revolutionary slogans from the Southern city of Daraa -now called the “Cradle of the the Revolution”- where, in March 2011, fifteen children were arrested, detained and tortured for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school. "As-Shaab / Yoreed / Eskaat el nizam!": "The people / want / to topple the regime!" and “It is your turn, Doctor!” (A nickname for Bashar Assad, a trained ophthalmologist. The outrage and protests over the children’s arrests and mistreatment is often credited for kindling the Syrian revolution.
Finally, also on the walls, are several of the Pro-Assad slogans often left by government forces: “Al Assad or we will burn the country in his name” and “Al Assad or no one/ through here marched Assad’s men.”
We are Staying overlays disparate geographies and unorganized moments in time, reflecting both a fragmented understanding of these accounts, and the conscious and unconscious attempts to recompose a potential reality.
Special thanks to Kifah Abdulla and Nihad Akkad for their assistance in translating the graffiti slogans used in this exhibition. Thanks to journalists Hannah Lucinda Smith, Medyan Dairieh and Nour Kelze for their encouragement. Thanks to Karyn Thomas and the Small Projects Istanbul for Syria students and families for welcoming me into their community. To learn more about Small Projects Istanbul for Syria and how you can help visit www.smallprojectsistanbul.org. Thank you to my husband Giuliano Matteucci for his support and creative collabortaion. And to Daniela Salvati and Domenico Matteucci for their support in Rome.
This project would not have been possible without the wonderful volunteers at SPACE Gallery who helped this project come to life: Michel Droge, Anna Bourakovsky, Karin Carlson, Kim Largey, Doug Milliken, Saleha Belgaumi, Fae Nason, Mandy Morrish, Rachel Romanski, Jewel Rechsteiner, Alyssa Stoisolovich, Susan Gallo, Katy Nicketakis, Jaime Wing, Alison Hildreth and Debrah Luhrs. Thank you to the Hunt and Alpine Club for donating their egg yolks to make the tempera paint used in the installation and finally thank you to the amazing team at SPACE Gallery for hosting me and my work.
Alina Gallo is an artist whose contemporary miniature paintings and mural installations have chronicled key Middle East and North Africa region events following the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010.
In the last years, Alina has followed her project to live in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Italy. She brings to her work a research background in Abbasid, Safavid and Ottoman Miniature Painting in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum Department of Islamic Arts archives in New York, the Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul, the University of Istanbul Nadir Eserler Library and the Museum of Art at Bowdoin College’s Islamic Manuscript Collection.
Alina holds an MFA ’08 from the Maine College of Art and has taught at Zayed University in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and at Small Projects for Syria in Istanbul. She has exhibited at venues including the Jamjar Gallery, Dubai, U.A.E.; the Portland Museum of Art; the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the ICA in Portland and her writing has appeared in publications including CHAIN magazine, Circumference: Journal of Translation and the Berkshire Review. She is currently collaborating with Australian artist Karen Black to create a book featuring children’s artwork from Small Projects for Syria in Istanbul to benefit their school.
Small Projects Istanbul for Syria: The mission of Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) is to provide access to supplemental education that will assist students and families from Syria to succeed in Turkey and beyond, paving the way for better opportunities in the future. As a global community of volunteers and supporters, SPI is working to provide supplemental education for children from Syria through weekend Turkish language and art classes that develop community and a new sense of belonging. SPI is also developing a scholarship fund to send well-vetted applicants through a 12 month, full time Turkish language course that will enable them to enroll - and succeed academically - in Turkish public universities.
Molhem Barakat died on December 20, 2013 while photographing Al Kindi hospital in Aleppo - the scene of a battle between rebel forces and Bashar al-Assad's troops. The teenager had been submitting photographs to Reuters news agency since May 2013, and his photos of the war and daily life were widely published. His photographs were the inspiration for multiple portions of the We Are Staying installation.
About Molhem's story: https://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/12/24/molhem-barakat-syrias-fallen-teenage-hero/#
Lovers' Notebooks, 2015. The population of Saraqeb in Syria express the ongoing conflict in their country and the changes after the revolution through graffiti. Lovers' Notebooks was shot over three years and is the first film by Saraqeb inhabitant and media activist Eyad Aljarod who directed it with Canadian-Syrian Aliaa Khachouk. The graffiti of Saraqeb is the source of much of the graffiti used in the We Are Staying installation.
The Veils of Aleppo: Photographs by Franco Pagetti. Striped sheets are a familiar sight to anyone who has been on the front lines in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo. Curtains and drapes act, hung along the streets of the Syrian city of Aleppo, act as veils for the city's residents, providing safe passage from the snipers throughout the city. Pagetti's photography series inspired the hanging drapes on the back wall of the We are Staying installation.
Photography series: http://time.com/3798365/the-veils-of-aleppo-photographs-by-franco-pagetti/
Khalifa, street artist. "In Aleppo, Asharq Al-Awsat - Khalifa has a message for the people of ravaged Aleppo: 'Tomorrow this will be beautiful." Khalifa's tag is used in several places in the We are Staying installation.
Article about Khalifa by Hannah Lucinda Smith:
The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution: The promoters of this project believe that it participates in the documentation of contemporary history, so it is crucial that the revolution and its realities are explicitly described, for both contemporaries and makers of the revolution, for the coming generations, for the whole world. It is an archive of national legacies, to protect and preserve the Syrian memory, a duty because of its total consideration of historical accounts of all Syrian people. http://www.creativememory.org/?lang=en
Saraqeb Walls on Facebook is a ongoing documentation of the graffiti in the Syrian City of Saraqeb and the source of many of the slogans used in the We Are Staying installation.
VICE News is an international news organization created by and for a connected generation. "We provide an unvarnished look at some of the most important events of our time, highlight under-reported stories from around the globe, and get to the heart of the matter with reporters who call it like they see it."
Abounaddara Films brings together documentary film professionals from here and there. Its first love is for short and intimate films, and it is more interested in stories of everyday life than in grand narratives. http://abounaddara.com
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, 2014. A look at first-hand video accounts of violence in modern-day Syria as filmed by activists in the besieged city of Homs. Directed by Wiam Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed.
Return to Homs, 2014. This movie is about the Syrian citizen who challenged everything and everyone to demand freedom. Its a movie about war and the pressure of being in a battlefield.
http://www.returntohoms.com (Shown at SPACE in 2014.)
Our Terrible Country, 2014. A film by: Mohamad Ali Atassi & Ziad Homsi. http://dafilms.com/film/9410-our-terrible-country/