Culture under fire/creative resistance in Syria

After our meeting in London at Reel:Syria festival I really feel that a focus on peaceful and creative forms of resistance is needed in the Syrian case. Last months have witnessed an escalation of violence and talks plenty of words as civil war, sectarianism. Talking about the creativity and the imagination of Syrians in such an hard situation is now,more than ever, needed. Here is a report about our talks in London published by SyriafromLondon. Brian Whitaker from the Guardian has also published his thoughts about the discussion on his blog.

Creative resistance is flourishing in Syria alongside the uprising. Decades of censorship have not silenced dissenting voices, but the atmosphere of pushing boundaries since the uprising began has allowed a blossoming artistic movement to develop.

I'm with the law

Arab media specialist Donatella della Ratta first witnessed this in the first days of the demonstrations on the walls of the old city in Damascus. Offering a rare insight into the Syrian capital in March 2011, the Copenhagen University fellow told of how the state covered the streets with posters encouraging civil obedience, which read, in various colours“I’m with the law” (where the hand forms part of the word ‘I’), and came addressed to “old or young” (as here), “left or right”, “optimistic or pessimistic” and so on.

me, you, brothers

Soon enough, doctored versions began to appear, first onFacebook. Beginning with “I’m not Indian” (referring to propaganda techniques used), and “I’m with Syria”, and then changing the hand for a foot accompanied by the words “I lost my shoes” (referring to the offensiveness of showing the soles of your shoes) and a version calling for unity (right) that says “Me, you, brothers”. Graffiti started to appear on the posters in the streets as the demonstrations gained momentum and the online community exchanging creatively doctored images grew and grew.

Speaking at the REEL:Syria event Culture Under Fire, the Italian academic who moved to Damascus four years ago, said, “After so many years where there so much control, seeing even the smallest act of writing on a poster is a huge step.”

Donatella della Ratta joined Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, Syrian novellist Manhal Al-Saraj, British Syrian authorRobin Yassin-Kassab, and cultural resistance specialist Steve Chandra Savale. Another Syrian novellist, Mamdouh Azzam, was not able to attend.

One Syria’s most famous cartoonists, Ali Farzat spoke of the attack last year that left him with head injuries and broken fingers. Through a translator, he said, “After the attack someone asked me, ‘Aren’t you afraid to carry on?’ I replied, ‘I’m more ashamed now. Blood is being spilled – what am I in comparison to the martyrs? I’m ashamed to be called an artist when I saw people who might not even be able to write sacrificing themselves for my freedom.’”

The novellist Manhal Al-Saraj, whose first book was not published in Syria as it deals with the 1982 massacre of Hama, said she was very excited when she heard the first calls to demonstrate in Damascus. “But when I saw children in Deraa come home with their faces and fingers bloodied,” she said, “I couldn’t be optimistic.”

But Ali Ferzat does not share her sentiments. “I think the revolution is victorious,” he said. “The revolution was concluded and was victorious when we broke the fear.”

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