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A captivating artistic triad from Syria

BEIRUT: Some of us are lucky enough to still be friends with our school comrades. Even after graduation, we keep in touch with one another, as though the school or university years never ended.

This sort of social continuity is shared by Syrian artists Anas Homsi, Fadi al-Hamwi and Wissam Shaabi, who all studied at Damascus’ Faculty of Fine Arts. The works of these three painters have been assembled for “True Colors,” now up at Gemmayzeh’s Joanna Seikaly Gallery.

The three artists may have studied together, but their styles are completely different from one another. Meandering in the space enables us to plunge into each painter’s realm.

Upon entering the venue, Homsi’s colorful, almost aggressive paintings first capture your attention. Six of his mixed-media-on-canvas works are displayed, all bulging with color. His technique can seem reminiscent of naive art, insofar as his characters are roughly sketched and often delimited by thick black lines.

Some onlookers may find it difficult to see any variation among Homsi’s individual works but his method and wisely chosen palette does succeed in hypnotizing onlookers.

“Noah’s Ark” (125x125 cm) features two characters of uncertain gender, arrayed against a blurry background.

Christians will likely be aware of the story of the Patriarch Noah from the Book of Genesis. Due to people’s bad behavior, God decides to destroy the world in a deluge, and Noah therefore sets out to save his family and all the Earth’s land-bound animals.

Why Homsi decided to invoke the Biblical tale in the title of this work is unclear. In his remarks introducing the exhibition, the artist wrote that he was “ambitious to see his country Syria live in peace.”

At first blush, Hamwi’s work is quite different from that of Homsi. His paintings have been compared to those of Russian-French artist Marc Chagall – especially in his renderings of weddings and of goats, which are (as with Chagall’s works) a recurring motif.

The six acrylic-on-canvas works exhibited in “True Colors,” however, do not evoke Chagall. “Silence” and “Curiosity” (both 120x100 cm) are intriguing depictions of owls. The first piece depicts a white owl, standing atop a gift-wrapped package tied with a bow. The second work is a rendering of a black owl, with a flower in its beak.

The owl has been associated with several myths and legends. For some, it embodies wisdom and is associated with the Greek deity Diana. For others, the creature is associated with the hunt itself. It may be that this dichotomy is reflected in Hamwi’s decision to depict the beast in white – suggesting wisdom – and black – evoking darkness.

Wissam Shaabi’s acrylic-on-canvas piece “City of Hope” (90x90 cm) is less aggressive to the eye than Homsi’s and Hamwi’s works – though it is no less powerful or evocative.

The title says it all. Here again, we can decipher a parallelism between the artist’s motto and objective (which is to paint their view of Syria) and what is actually happening in their country.

Shaabi’s abstract figuration combines shades of blue, ochre and white with primitive renderings of crosses and crescents, suggesting a skyline of churches and mosques, and so communal mixite. One can see the layers of paint protruding from the canvas, as though these colors were pouring forth from the two black buildings – like hope purifying the corrupted air.

“True Colors” is now up at Joanna Seikaly Gallery in Gemmayzeh until Nov. 17. For more information, please call 70-776-711.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 26, 2012, on page 16.

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