An endless scream of a man holding his injured child dazed in dust, as immortalised in this very influential artwork, uncovering horrifying scenes from one of the bloodiest present day
7 years later, while attending an art exhibition in Berlin, I finally succeeded in meeting with Ala` Hamameh and discovered many untold stories as depicted through his “Suitcase Memory”.
A suitcase carrying horrifying memories, bringing to a tragic end the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian people, while displacing some other millions.
Our conversation started when Ala` began to explain how as a child he felt so captive in a dream of vibrant colours. While observing his paintings, it became very clear to me that this fascination for colour held a promise of a very unique gift, which he continued to explore and develop while reading for a bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications at Damascus University. It was here that he understood how colour can be so powerful in voicing any reality we may try to deny. A harsh reality, which in Syria, was voiced and ruled by an oppressive regime. A reality, which some abided by, and which others refused to succumb to.
Ala` continued working on developing a solid identity of his self-expression, showcasing rich and varied artistry, including; painting, photography, graphic design, installations and video art. However, with the outburst of the revolution, he started to paint on canvas as other media became severely prohibited.
It was this technique that helped him shape the very essence of his vision, and here is where his colours became the ‘luck of violence’! His canvasses acquired bright harsh colours, which in some sense equivocated and deceived the ruthless scenes, but which in turn reflected fearlessly the ugly coloured face and viciousness of war.
At the same time when the war started to reach its climax, he was invited by the Cultural Centre of Berlin to present his project “Dialog Tables” at a press conference, with the scope of discussing the concept of dialogue, and its meaning in the context of socio-political unrest. Since then, he decided to remain in Berlin.
Artwork & style
His exhibit appears to me as a complex poem of terror, pain and death, and while I struggle to understand through the intricacy of the colourful layers, Ala` smiles, and explains to me that he only manages to accomplish such results by completely rejecting immediate perception as inflicted in his memory, while building on more complex psychic structures. He develops this by focusing on a drastic use of altered hues that separate colour from its usual representational and realistic role. His “Dialog Tables” series is an example of this radical approach, where his scenes are worked in bold clashing colours,
executed through unrelenting brushwork. In this way he gives a new emotional meaning to the colours, bringing to life scenes beyond belief! Through this set of artwork runs a powerful, yet disconnected dark line. This line assists him in clarifying his ideas, dividing the intense colour planes, while containing a constructive power of terror.
So distinctively, he is also able to reconcile the contrast between the vivid colours and the ‘frenzied’ character of his subjects. As apparent through their nervous gestures and restless movements, these figures play a very important role by marking a link of tension through the whole series. Though their eyes are open wide, their faces are featureless, as they are in the face of war. Prisoners of faith, or terrorised mothers. They all play their role in Ala`s creative atmosphere of moral repression. “My characters have had no clear features until now. They are still trying to symbolize the Syrian scene, sometimes, through heavy armoured vehicles or figures resting on “Dialog Tables” and stuffing their pockets and suitcases with what has remained of the memories of each displaced person, emigrant, or refugee.”
With his project, “A Suitcase Memory” 2017 – 2018 Ala` seeks new methods and means to communicate with various audiences. A project, which developed from the pain and the psychological trauma he experienced during such a large-scaled disaster. I witnessed such
memories for the very first time while his video-art was being showcased at the Muza Museum of Art in Valletta, following exhibitions in Paris, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Frankfurt, Montpellier and Istanbul. A collection of scripts, sketches, paintings, and installation, as well as this exceptional video-art, reflecting a personal expression of emotional angst, again uttered through an intense mixture of colours!
However, this was not sufficient to bring these memories back to life, some of which were very predictable. In his paintings, he tried to utilise various different visual elements. A scattered inclusion of people’s personal photos brings real-life stories to the forefront, creating an unpredictable collective memory of such people’s fight for freedom and justice. When I asked him about the very first idea behind this Suitcase Memory, Ala` described it as a very personal memory. When he left from Damascus, with only his suitcase, he also had to leave everything and everyone behind.
Upcoming Project: 2019
While being so far away from home, he became aware that his biggest fear was forgetting! Talking about memory after seven years of war, did not only become an essential part of his work, but developed into an approach towards a fertility of impact and a future of influence.
While he regards his previous project “A Suitcase Memory” as his personal navigator, that gave him the coordinates of his new geographical position, and helped him maintain his balance on the new soil of this war free home, for his next project, Ala` resists forgetfulness by reviving his fears once again. In need of delicate, explicit and strong memory, he also requires to recall more sensible senses, such as a voice, and its echoes. He explains to me that the voice is an essential constituent of shape and its spirit. Through its capacity, the faces, names and places, could be recalled even when they do not exist anymore!
“Memory is the ailment of truth, and the nightmare of tyrants. Who owns it knows exactly how to recall anger, even after the disappearance of the victim, and even after the revolution ends.”
© 2019 – VIDA Magazine