Humam Alsalim is the co-founder of the Cyrrus Gallery, an online gallery which displays the work of contemporary Syrian artists. In this interview, we discuss art in the context of war, cultural genocide, and international solidarity.
JC: You started the Cyrrus Gallery and the Syria Art Facebook page in 2012 with Danii Kessjan, after violence between the government forces and opposition forces began. What was your inspiration for creating these websites? Did it have anything to do with the conflict?
HA: We founded the sites to present Syrian art to the world. Since there is no place for Syrian artists to all gather together, we decided to create an online platform for artists to sell their works. The conflict is not directly related to the creation of the website. The art movement in Syria has been flourishing since the last century, and there are a lot of works that deserve to be seen by the world. Our financial resources are limited, but creating a website was within our capacity.
JC: What artists do you represent? As in, what are their backgrounds? Are they only artists who have a formal education or do you share work that comes from other sources?
HA: We present artists from all backgrounds. We believe you don’t have to study Art in college to be an artist. What matters is that the artist must be Syrian, or of Syrian origins. However, someday we would like to expand the site to include artists from other countries and origins.
JC: It’s been over four years now since the violence started. How does sharing Syrian art contribute to resolving the conflict, and why is it especially important now?
HA: Our official stance as stated on our page is “The Syria Art page is an online gallery for Syrian Artists. Deliberately neutral, this page stands beyond any ideological, ethnic, religious or political issues.” We don’t share art that are explicitly political, because it always leads to fights in the comments and bad arguments that we don’t like to have on our page. We try to stay neutral as much as possible, but part of our mission is to raise awareness of Syrian culture and art in an attempt to change the bad image of Syrians perpetuated by the mainstream media.
JC: Some activists and groups have brought attention to the “cultural genocide” that is happening in Syria right now, in terms of the destruction of ancient sites and artifacts. How has the conflict affected the art scene in Syria? What are groups like yours doing to preserve and protect contemporary Syrian culture?
HA: The war has had very real consequences for the art scene in Syria. Less exhibitions are being held, no one can afford to buy paintings, and many artists have left the country. To help the ones who have remained, we try to connect them with opportunities for exhibiting their works outside Syria. We are also making a digital archive of Syrian art, including old pioneers like Kayyali and Moudarres as well as younger artists. Hopefully we will be able secure more resources in the future that will allow us to host our own events and exhibits.
JC: What can individuals or local groups outside of Syria do to support your project?
We would like to ask them to share our page and share Syrian art in general. Those who can afford to support Syrian artists by buying their paintings would help both the artists and the project itself. Individuals who are in charge and capable of holding exhibitions and promoting art can also help Syrian artists by inviting them to exhibit their work.
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Joe Caterine is a journalist living in Austin, TX. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephCaterine