Damascus - Culture Capital of the Arab World 2008
Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
After three-fourths of a year, Secretary General Dr. Hanan Kassab-Hassan sees the interim balance as being positive. The top quality events in every area of art and culture have been well received and the Culture Year has provided the framework for the activities of many of Syrian’s intellectuals.
Culture Year opened for the public on January 19, 2008, on Umayyad Square and in “Dar Al Assad for Culture and Arts” in an official ceremony with President Assad and invited guests, among whom was also Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the League of the Arab States.
One of the highlights of the opening gala was a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra with Western and Arab selections and readings from the works of Dr. Nadia Khost, who is well known and highly regarded in the country for her tireless efforts in saving the old town of Damascus. “I have published over 20 books about my country and its neighbors and particularly about Damascus and have been writing a regular column for Tishrin (October), one of the major newspapers in Damascus, for almost 30 years. Choosing the right words is of great importance. I was the first to take up the fight against the destruction of the old town. To be modern, you must maintain your identity and things of tradition and be mindful of the environment. Just writing, however, is of no use; you must do something. I have attacked decisions “from above” and was able to prevent concrete destruction through letters to the president. But I also scaled walls, took photographs and made documentations. Nowadays it is exceedingly difficult to destroy traditional things because there are now laws to prevent it. I consider the fact that selections were read from my works at the opening to be an acknowledgement,” said Dr. Nadia Khost.
On the program to date has been music from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Algeria and painting exhibitions in the national museum, including a retrospective of the beginnings of painting and sculpture in 1899 up to the opening of the Faculty for Fine Arts at the University of Damascus in the 1960s. Works by 50 artists – pioneers in art who have since died – were on display in three galleries in the city, a move that had been unknown until now, which left behind a strong impression through their significance to the development of art in Syria. The Tunisian oud player, Anonar Braham, was a guest; Syrian musicians had no less a goal at the Damascene Chamber Concert than bridging the gap between Syrians and the foreigners living in Syria; British art from the years 1940-1950 was a topic; the Folkwang Dance Studio made a guest appearance in April; and a calligraphy exhibit with displays from the national museum and the National Assad Library enthused the visitors. There was a performance of Dostoevsky by Peter Brook, the famous British director of film and stage, as part of the program of international theatrical performances. The “World Music Night” was held in mid-July in the citadel of Damascus with renowned international soloists and groups.
The gallery owner, Mahmoud Shahin, is a regular customer in the coffee house with the traditional storytellers at the foot of the steps near the Umayyad Mosque that is the most popular and most crowded coffee house during the Culture Year. “I was born in 1948 in Jerusalem but have lived for over 20 years in Damascus. My stories are about the suffering of the Palestinian people; my paintings with calligraphic elements were termed a dialog between the Occident and the Orient.” The Palestinian painter, writer and journalist is also known in Europe; he had an exhibition in Berlin in the year 2000. He has made a spiritual transformation during the process of his artistic development. “I was a resistance fighter and atheist, but now I have returned to the religious traditions of my people.” When asked of his opinion of the Culture Year, he commented, “I think it is good, especially the international events are a benefit for those Syrians who never have the possibility to travel abroad. They will be talking about it for many years to come.”
The program is published monthly. The topics are art, archaeology, film, science, music, and theatre. The local media report about the performances, exhibitions, workshops and concerts and announce the Arab countries’ popular national folklore groups, who will all have been presented by the end of 2008.
Information at: www.damascus.org.sy
By Barbara Schumacher