Since its launch in Damascus in 2010, the aim of the Visual Arts Festival Damascus has been to create a platform for meetings and debates focusing on contemporary visual practice in the Middle East and to encourage and facilitate exchange between young artists in Syria and the neighbouring Arab countries as well as their international peers.
When the Syrian uprising began in 2011, the format of the festival changed and became nomadic: In 2012, it was hosted by the International Film Festival Rotterdam, as part of the “Power Cut Middle East” program, and in 2013 a program of exhibition, screenings, talks and workshops will be hosted by DEPO in Istanbul. The program was selected on the basis of a call for digital art works for artists from the Arab countries and Turkey.
Now, only a few days before the opening of the 2013 edition of the festival, protests are taking place throughout Turkey. What started as a protest against yet another “development” project in Istanbul that would deprive the city’s inhabitants of a favorite gathering place has developed into a wider movement against gouvernmental arrogance and a statement against the repression of civic rights. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Orhan Pamuk compared Taksim Square with an old chestnut tree that his own family successfully saved from being cut down in the 1950s. The members of his family took turns in guarding the tree and were able to preserve it. Now, the people of Istanbul are guarding a square with its park, together with its memories of civic engagement and communal life.
Just as in the ongoing fights for freedom and civic rights in the Arab world, many artists in Turkey are engaged in this movement. And it is sure to have an important impact on the work of these artists.
In the Arab countries, the ongoing upheavals and the questions accompanying them are visible in the recent works of many artists. The search for new definitions of social and geographical identities and roles, the need to create new notions of belonging and a general turn towards centering the human experience within artistic practice are all themes that are very present. Many of the works selected for this year’s festival address important social issues and many have a distinctive activist character.
We would like to invite the audience to explore the work of this young, engaged and exciting art scene and to participate in the round tables and discussions proposed at DEPO during the two days following the opening. The opening days will close with an experimental audiovisual performance.
The Visual Arts Festival Damascus would like to thank our sponsors, Prince Claus Fund, the Danish Arts Council and Agial Gallery, Beirut for their support and DEPO for hosting us for one month of activities.
Charlotte Bank & Delphine Leccas