The Outcry of the Unvoiced

Sulafa Hijazi, Untitled, 2012.

- I don't know what you mean, what are you talking about?

Sulafa Hijazi asked back in Copenhagen a few weeks ago at the presentation of the anthology Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline.

She was being asked if she missed doing art for art's own sake?

Her reaction was magnificent. She not only flatly dismissed it, but treated it as nonexistent, the idea of seeing art as separated from life and especially our passions.

Sulafa Hijazi, May 24, 2012.

Her drawings are painfully silent. What at first sight seems to be a surface of calm is a nightmare of pain without a voice. No one calls out, each being incarcerated in the prison imposed on him/her. They are all trying to survive on whatever they can and going to pieces in the process. The bluish-grey-green tints add to the noiselessness of the pain, the colors chosen reflect the lack of lustre in the Assad rule, in the words of Sulafa.

To this she adds the texture of dotted skin or a sharp highlight, through which the bars of oppression shoot though the picture plane, penetrating the already afflicted figure, and this is not even the central focus of the motive, indicating sufferance as the basis of life in the Assad regime. To all drawings have been added the effect as if drawn on crumbled paper.

Sulafa Hijazi had to leave Syria by the end of 2012, and the dates beneath each drawing states when it was first published on the social media, in this case Facebook. With one exception, the ones shown here were all drawn while Sulafa was still in Syria where she chose to work digitally, making it easer to disguise and erase her work, if needed.

Sulafa Hijazi, The Birth of Birth, May 15, 2012.

Life and the lack of it is intertwined, giving life and the taking of life: The violence of the Assad regime is resulting in a world in which men gives birth to the next generation of weaponry. Sulafa Hijazi has given us the image, which may become the very icon of the Syrian struggle for freedom.

And not just that, she has even given us another, the image of what it means to flee in trying to reach for freedom.

The drawing below was made on the other side of Sulafa's own escape. She has told, how she for five months following it suffered from "disconnected memory". The drawing is a reflection on freedom, as in freedom from something, that something which turns out to be too strong, impossible to escape, to which end she deftly portrays the mental state through the body:

Sulafa Hijazi, Asylum, April 4, 2014.
- From a Western perspective I cannot help seeing
the Mediterranean as the symbol of the Western passivity,
making it a sea of death demanding its heavy prize on life.

"Inside Syria, people live as prisoners inside a huge cell. Once we try to escape from there, we discover that we are still inside", in the words of Sulafa Hijazi herself.

Sulafa Hijazi, May 24, 2012.

Sulafa Hijazi employs mathematical structures of symmetry, repetition, and mirroring, giving them symbolical substance such as being locked in upon oneself in an eternal repetition, i.e. the double prison of losing oneself by never being able to break out. It has resulted in one of her most beautiful drawings. 

The clarity of the soft blue, the intricacy of the composition. And the embodiment of human life.

Sulafa Hijazi, June 15, 2012.

The artworks shown are courtesy of Sulafa Hijazi and must not be reproduced without her permission.

The quotation above is from: Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen and Nawara Mahfoud (eds), Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, London: Saqi Books 2014.

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