‘Landscapes of Hope’

Syrian artists meet at a festival in Berlin to present their work and make contact with other people.

Frankziska Preuß - „Landschaften der Hoffnung“

In view of the images of destruction and suffering that reach us from Syria every day, speaking of ‘Landscapes of Hope’ in this context might appear paradoxical at first glance. Yet the festival of Syrian artists in Berlin with this name does indeed spread hope. The name says it all. Organized by ‘Action for Hope’, a Lebanese non-governmental organization, and under the patronage of the German Federal Foreign Office, the Berlin venue Radialsystem – a converted pumping station on the banks of the river Spree – brought together musicians, directors, actors, dancers, photographers and writers from Syria from 1 to 3 October 2016 so they could present their work and – equally important – make contact and communicate with each other and with creative artists and the general public on site.

The guests were welcomed by the aromas of Syrian cuisine. In front of an audience, radio presenter Malakeh Jezmati, who hosted cooking shows in Syria before her flight to Germany, competed with her colleague Rita Bariche to cook the best food: as appetizers a Syrian version of crêpes filled with paprika paste and cheese, and spinach sautéed in olive oil with garlic and coriander, followed by the main courses. With the familiar aromas, the cooks gave Syrian refugees visiting the festival a feeling of home, while other guests simply enjoyed the Levantine delicacies. ”Cooking,“ the organizers write in the programme booklet, ”has become an act of resistance for Syrians against the feelings of loss and alienation.“ Cooking and eating together on this sunny Berlin autumn weekend was thus by no means a fringe activity, but an essential part of the programme – on a par with the other arts.

As the cooks brought the fragrances of Syria to the centre of Berlin, Cairo-based artist Hamdy Reda, with his photographic installation, took the Berlin visitors along with him to the refugee camps in Syria’s neighbouring countries: Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. His portraits of children, women and men, the everyday scenes he captures, seem incidental, yet straight from real life. Printed on meter-long widths of warmly lit, unbleached cotton, the artist’s images evoke familiar, almost intimate moments of encounter with the refugees: a moment of contemplation and hope in the face of war and escape.

However, Hamdy Reda does not only take photographs in the refugee camps, he also teaches children and young people there to take pictures. He organizes these workshops together with ‘Action for Hope’. Since 2013, the organization, which was founded in Lebanon and is now registered in Belgium, has set itself the task of spreading hope in the Syrian refugee camps. Through art. Every three to five months, so-called cultural aid convoys set off and offer workshops in the refugee camps. Under the guidance of artists, children and young people put on theatre plays, make music, paint pictures and produce movies. Permanent cultural centres will also be opening soon, the first in the western Bekaa plain in Lebanon.

”The refugee camps are already providing food and shelter. But what about the people’s souls?“ asks Brigitte Boulad, Board Secretary of ‘Action of Hope’. It was this question that triggered the founding of the non-governmental organization. With the ‘Landscapes of Hope’ festival, ‘Action of Hope’ has come to Berlin to generate hope among Syrian artists who have come to Germany as refugees. In exile, they suffer from similar difficulties, e.g. bureaucracy, as other newcomers do. On the other hand, as the discussion under the slogan ‘conditional freedom’ revealed, it is essential for them not only to be perceived as refugees, but also to be heard as artists. Festivals like ‘Landscapes of Hope’ can pave the way. The German Foreign Office is also promoting other initiatives aimed at networking exiled Syrian artists with colleagues in Germany. For example, in October, also in Berlin, the Damascus Goethe-Institut, which has been closed since 2012, will open a venue ‘in exile’ for a few weeks – with works of Syrian artists on topics such as ‘Home and Exile’ and ‘Utopia Damascus 2020’.

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