Jaber Al Azmeh (Interview)

Author: Dane Cardiel

The series “Wounds” by fine art photographer Jaber Al Azmeh (Damascus, 1973), emerges from the height of conflict in Syria in 2011. This body of work was published in our seventh issue (Myth), paired with a translation of Virgil’s “The Aeneid: Book III” by David Hadbawnik. Although the pairing of word and image provide striking conclusions, we fail to recognize (in the print issue) and provide the proper context to which Jaber’s work was produced. That is, the inception of the Syrian Revolution.

Inspired (and equally troubled) by this context, I wanted to provide a continued conversation about this work and the many personal accounts this work derives from.  

What circumstances generated this body of work and with what motivation did you have to maintain to see its completion?

We were all living in a country governed by a certain family and a repressive security regime, a country that was transformed to a center of corruption and injustice. The people (thirsty for freedom and dignity for decades) moved and so began one of the toughest freedom revolutions in modern history.

Everyone had this massive urge to express, to say a word, to do an act, to participate – all means of expression began to rise and become available and required.

My work started from this platform, and it was not a planned project. I began producing works spontaneously, driven by an intensive emotional and national situation, trying to keep up with the street and the people, expressing aspirations, dreams and pains.

My primary objective at the time was sharing the works on Facebook, as it was an important platform and an effective one in the beginning of the revolution when the civil activity was at its height and brilliance. Later on it became clear that the work started to create a project and I continued the work on the basis of a series, relying on the foundations that the project was based on – the revolution.

What parameters did you create that allowed for continuity between each image in this series?

Conceptually, I did not need to make any extra effort. The spirit and content is one and coherent: "The Syrian Revolution." However, visually and technically all the photographs where done in a specific technique using multiple exposures or long ones creating scenes with black shadows of human figures against the consistent "bloody" background.

Given the theme of our issue – MYTH – can you speak toward the myths being created within Syria and/or the myths being created about Syria?

This is not a new situation – people's liberation movements in the world have long been faced by the world rulers. And while people try to unite in support of each other in their quest for freedom, the dominant regimes are doing a better job collaborating to face their biggest threat: the freedom of the people.

Syrian people are left alone to face madness, the regime has been committing massacres for the past two years and the world is almost silent! Just a few days ago the Syrian regime hit Damascus suburbs with chemical weapons killing at least 1,300 Syrians among them a high percentage of children, and now politicians are debating whether it's time to interfere or not. Anyway if they do, it will not be to end the madness, this comes very late and if anyone was genuine about saving the people – they would have helped a long time ago.

At the moment I see no myth in this scene, I only see ugliness and pain. If this revolution succeeds in favor of "humanity" (the word that completely lost its meaning as far as the Syrian people are concerned) if it succeeds, then yes a true myth will be created.

After relocating to Qatar, has Syria remained an influence in your artistic practice? If so, in what way have you pursued those themes that so critically concern themselves with the future of this country?

I think that Syria has been the primary, if not the only, inspiration for the Syrian artist in the past two years. I worked on two projects coming from the revolution, half of the work was done in Syria and the other half came later after I left, the geographical presence does not change the desire or the need to produce in this context, on the contrary I think it's the opposite.

I have to admit that I completely stopped now, but it's not because I'm far, the situation reached a stage of so much tragedy and pain, destruction and futility, which drowns us currently in shock that is preventing the production of anything. The magnificent spirit that fueled the people and gave us all that positive energy in the early stages of the revolution is sinking now in all the death and destruction… I feel mute!

In a previous interview, you have stated a ruling fear for many in Syria—particularly the fear within those brave enough to protest on behalf of their ideas, vision, and dreams—as this series developed, were you operating out of a similar fear?

Of course I was scared when I was doing this work in Damascus, every Syrian has this fear, we lived with it – the regime worked hard and for decades to implement it in every Syrian citizen. But I would easily surpass my fears and despise them whenever I see the courage of the people working for the revolution.

 In “Equality, Dignity, Freedom” you situate text on the image between the viewer and your subject. In a street art-like fashion, your figure burns this text into view. Can you speak further to the significance, or perhaps symbolism, this may have toward the state of Syria and its people?

The people have given and heard so much to the extent that any speech about sacrifice is no longer acceptable, it sounds like a vulgar cliché now. In the past two years we have changed and became harsh. I'm starting to see my work in a cynical bitter way now, although I know the sincerity and beauty of the situation that was driving me at that time. Anyhow, in spite of all the bitterness which I've reached at this moment, I still have not let go of the hope that all the sacrifices will not go in vain and Syria might eventually reach a better place.

Lastly, what responsibility do you believe ‘The Artist’ has within society? And, in your judgment, would you say artists are upholding this responsibility?

Each one has their responsibilities – the doctor, the backer, the journalist, the artist, and the driver. The artist might have a profound ability in seeing things and expressing to others in a way that makes it important to produce in such circumstances and share it with the people.

Undoubtedly, the revolution stirred everything including art and produced new amazing unconventional street art forms, especially at its beginning.

As for artist, I think there are a few who betrayed the revolution and the people and even themselves, but on the other hand I can think of many artists who offered what is very important not only in their works but in their behavior and attitudes, I find them to be beautiful and strong in every sense of the word.

For more information on the artist, please visit his website: http://jaberalazmeh.com/gallery/

Jaber Al Azmeh is represented by Green Art Gallery in Dubai, UAE.