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Syrian Art as a Powerful Record of this Time Period

miriam cooke
Speaker miriam cook gives a lecture entitled "Creativity, Resilience, and the Syrian Revolution" in Thomson Hall on Tuesday, January 31, 2017.

February 13, 2017

“Liberty,” designed on canvas by artist Wissam Al-Jazaeri, depicts the form of a man’s head, gashed at the neck, with a bird flying to his left. The painting makes reference to the gruesome slaughtering of singer Ibrahim Qashoush after he sang before a protest of thousands as part of the 2011 Arab Spring.

In a Tuesday night talk in Thomson Hall — entitled “Creativity, Resilience and the Syrian Revolution” — miriam cooke, a professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University, discussed how the Syrian people have responded to their country’s crisis through art.

“In Syria, a country cowered into silence for 40 years, a revolution broke out in March of 2011,” cooke said. “In digital and plastic arts, in video and still images in film, in novels and short stories, organic intellectuals inside and outside their country are crafting works that emerge out of the revolution that insist on its persistence as a revolution and point to a new future.”

 Cooke has been a visiting professor in Tunisia, Romania, Indonesia, Qatar, and at the Alliance of Civilizations Institute in Istanbul. Her writings pertain to the intersection of gender and war in modern Arabic literature, as well as Arab women writers’ constructions of Islamic feminism.

Cooke’s most recent studies have surrounded Arab cultural studies, focusing on the country of Syria. She is the author of several books, including “Dissident Syria: Making Oppositional Arts Official” and “Nazira Zeineddine: A Pioneer of Islamic Feminism.” Her latest book, “Dancing in Damascus: Creativity, Resilience, and the Syrian Revolution,” discusses art springing from the current civil war and revolution in Syria.

Arzoo Osanloo, director of the Middle East Center at the UW, spoke on cooke’s latest book.

“[It’s] her attempt to respond to the crucial question: What is the relevance of aesthetics in a time of violence?” Osanloo said. “She argues that, ‘the creative process allows us to process what seems to be beyond comprehension because it is beyond words until it is shaped into evocative images and stories.’”

Throughout her talk, cooke displayed and spoke on numerous works by artists, including Ali Ferzat’s “Finger to Bashar.” Of the many satirical cartoons by Ferzat, this one came after he was beaten up, had his fingers smashed, and was hospitalized by attackers. The drawing depicts Ferzat lying miserably, bandaged and immobile in a hospital bed, with his middle finger stuck in the air.

 Cooke described how intrigued she was by the various forms of art, including graffiti, rap, and hip hop, emerging out of Syria in 2011, which led her to write on the cultural production of the Arab Spring. But within three months of the revolution’s beginning, she became hesitant to continue her work. After seeing the art emerging from Syria in a time of turmoil, she drew connections between artists under dictatorship and artwork of the revolution.

“I started then to look at what was happening in Syria, and realized that in some ways I had to make a connection between my earlier work,” cooke said, “and the writers and filmmakers who were saying ‘I  want the world to know 50 years from now that there were people that stood up to the dictator no matter what the cost.’”

Reach reporter Nathan Lim at Twitter: @natejaelim

This article originally appeared in The Daily on February 1st, 2017.