BEIRUT: If you enter Gemmayzeh’s Art on 56th gallery this month, you’ll come face-to-face with children playing with kites and surrounded by birds.
These jolly, candid scenes are not the only things Syrian artist Reem Yassouf wanted to communicate through her artworks. “Child’s Message,” which features around 25 mixed-media works, consists of Yassouf’s representations of children both living and dead. Her work avoids becoming morbid, however, functioning instead as an artistic vision of what she does not want to put into words.
Viewers will notice an installation of paper kites hanging from the ceiling. On the threads, visitors of the gallery have pinned messages detailing what they wish for: Some of them wish for peace, while others hope the violence in Syria will abate.
The installation conveys an impression of innocence, appealing to the childlike side of viewers.
The artworks enable onlookers to immerse themselves in Yassouf’s gentle visions of childhood, in which the living hang out with the dead. The soft, subtly shaded works emanate a peaceful atmosphere, negating any potentially pessimistic reading.
Yassouf avoids drawing features on her subjects’ smooth faces, leaving viewers to interpret their gender through clues such as the length of their hair.
Most of the artist’s works evince a complex process of layering. Added one layer at a time, the backgrounds of each canvas form a labyrinth. By perusing them carefully, viewers can decipher the sequence by which Yassouf deployed her paintbrush.
At first glance, many of the works seem two-dimensional. However, the game of light and shadow, the light and dark hues of paint, come together to give the canvasses a third dimension.
A hidden message appears to smuggle inside each artwork for those who look: one of freedom. Yassouf has painted children with their eyes hidden by blindfolds, reaching their hands out toward birds, or tightly holding the strings of kites, as though wishing to fly away.
There is no specific context to the works that specifies the place, time or nature of these thwarted longings for freedom, but some viewers may assume that Yassouf is depicting the lives of Middle Eastern children.
The artist’s work bares a similarity to that of Beirut-born Palestinian artist Abdulrahman Katanani, known for his works, made out of scrap materials, depicting Palestinian refugees. A number of Yassouf’s pieces, whether consciously or not, bear similarities to Katanani’s depictions of children holding on to balloons, playing with kites or looking at butterflies.
One of Yassouf’s untitled mixed media on canvas works depicts five children in the sky, holding hands so that their arms form a circle from which their outstretched bodies extend like petals. Viewers familiar with the work of French modernist painter Henri Matisse may spot a resemblance to Matisse’s “The Dance” (1909-10), in which the five subjects are captured in a similar pose, seemingly freed from the chains of gravity.
The title of the exhibition, with its intimations of a message that needs to be delivered, may indicate Yassouf’s wish to trigger a response from the childlike side of her viewers, enabling them to share their own messages and thoughts on what is happening in the region. The “child’s message” is both one on the canvasses and the one that we dare not speak.
Reem Yassouf’s “Child’s Message” is up at Gemmayzeh’s Art on 56th until May 5. For more information, please call 01-570-331.