With all the chaos and terror going on in the Middle East, one can’t but help be taken away by the outflow of art work coming from Syria. With powerful imagery and symbols of what people have to endure on a daily basis is surely going to stay with us for some time to come. This is what is making the Middle Eastern art world move, how the artists are at the forefront risking their own lives to speak for their people. I recommend anyone interested in politics, the Arab spring and contemporary art to visit the current exhibition at Lahd Gallery in London to see Khaled Akil’s ‘The Unmentioned’ based on the current social and political issues in Syria. Caspian Arts Foundation is very proud to support Khaled Akil and his work and to have him speak with us about life as an artist in Syria today.
CAF: You are currently living and working in Aleppo with what the current situation is in Syria, how difficult is it to work as an artist there now? What are your circumstances and how do you go about your work and in keeping yourself and your surroundings safe?
K.A.: As artists we all suffer from dictatorship regimes in our normal daily lives. You can imagine then what the situation is now. I mean art became a weapon that threatens the regime and the anti-regime as well, it is not acceptable from both parts because art reveals the truth and takes off all the masks and lies which politics is based on…
CAF: Many Syrian artists, like yourself, are now using their art form as a platform to reach to the outside world. What are the messages you are conveying through your work, what issues (both social and political) are you addressing, and what is it you want the readers to know and understand through them?
K.A.: To be a real artist and not a “Just Looking for Profit” artist is to have an idea that you defend with your art works. It is simply having a duty regarding your society and your country … that is why. Translating the three taboos in our society into art works is my duty in order to break all fears and raising religious, social and political awareness. Syria with all its contradictions has had the most misunderstood reputation in the world. In my opinion Syria should not be represented in “Harem” or “Veil” nor “Suicide attacks” and “Terrorism” and never “Al Assad” or “Syrian National Council”. Syria is richer than that, it is not “simple” or easily grasped. You have to live in Syria with all its details to understand the secrets behind it. I try to help my audience with my artworks to live all these details, as I normally focus on ideas and details.
CAF: I saw your exhibition ‘The Unmentioned’ at Lahd Gallery and was very taken away with some of the pieces, most of which are very powerful and moving. Many of the pieces I saw on display did not show faces. Even the Sufi dancers’ heads & faces are covered up, you only get a glimpse of their body, or in one image a man holding a human skull. What is the reason behind this?
K.A.: The answer is very simple. I believe that faces lie and that is why we tend to cover them either with ‘Make up’, ‘Veil’, ‘Masks’ and ‘Yellow smiles’. The human body reflects the soul in its strengths and weaknesses while our faces reveal what we want to be revealed.
CAF: You are a self-taught artist, how did you come into photography, and what drew you to it in the first place?
K.A.: To tell you the truth it was my grandfather who had the biggest influence on my choice (into becoming an artist). During my childhood, my hobby was to try his cameras (he had more than 20 of them) and his equipments. At the age of 16 I got my first “film” camera as a present from him on the occasion of my birthday and he taught me all the techniques and details on how to use it and when. On the other hand, my father, Youssef Akil who is one of the few “first generation” painters in Syria, has been a great help in raising my artistic sense as I learned that art becomes a way of life, a different perspective with which you see and understand and deal with daily events “positive or negative.” You can easily understand from what I mentioned above the reasons that have objected me away from developing my career as a lawyer, I have a really different way of life, far from the daily complications and routine (that other people have become accustomed to).
(images courtesy of the artist and Lahd Gallery)