When people hit the streets needing to draw attention to a cause or a person, it is the banners they display that express their opinions. Ultimately, these banners make all the difference. When directives were issued to celebrate and express loyalty to a particular leader or party, Syria’s public spaces would fill to the brim with all sorts of signs and banners. In the time of tyranny, writing ceased to be an art. Words were bought and appropriated. Words were drained of their power to move people and effect change. Words became tools used to glorify those in authority. People lived in fear of armed forces that worked to perpetuate corruption; hence their banners reflected this fear.
With the launching of the revolution, banners have returned to their essence. Today’s banners are made of paper now, as fabric is being used to shroud the martyred bodies that still grow in number. Nevertheless, the revolution has broken down walls, giving rise to new languages of expression and fields of creativity previously unexplored. Banners have gone from praising people in power to spelling freedom for citizens. Instead of contributing to individual gains, they encompass the whole of Syria, the hope for a better Syria.
Banners, in this time of revolution, have become a celebration of hope and freedom.
Arabic calligraphy has enjoyed a long history of creativity and renovation. Civilizations heavily influenced by Islamic culture have had the greatest influence on calligraphy’s growth. In this past century, however, two negative facets of this art emerged.
The first is the merging of the aesthetic, artistic quality of calligraphy with the religious text it carries, turning this art into nothing more than an ornamental vessel of religion.
The second is the random inclusion of letters into paintings. This insertion developed as a nationalist-religious reaction aimed at the “invasion” of European schools of painting, but it proved to be devoid of expression, of emotion, and of art.
A few calligraphers in Syria and around the Arab world worked diligently to maintain calligraphy as an art in itself, remaining open to opportunities of modernization and creation. They struggled to revive the stagnant art scene hampered by the rigid political life of tyranny.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that the most notable works of Arabic calligraphy accompanying the Syrian revolution are in the context of resistance and liberation.
The art of caricature reached Syria at the beginning of the twentieth century. Initially the illustrations were mere depictions of jokes, but they later grew to assume a critical approach toward politics and politicians. This stance is especially evident in two magazines, Almudhik Almubki (1929 – 1966) and Aldumeri (2001 – 2003).Caricature relies chiefly on the paradox revealed in the contrast between writing and drawing, and on the exaggeration in highlighting the physical and moral attributes of characters. The more a caricature is exaggerated, the stronger it becomes.Political events became the basic reference for this art form in Syria; even when dealing with fictional characters, cartoonists draw inspiration from real figures active in the political field.Syria produced many distinguished caricaturists and cartoonists, but because the margin of freedom did not allow exhibitions of their works, most of them now work outside of the country.With the Syrian revolution, the possibilities to escape censorship have risen. Furthermore with the emergence of many revolutionary periodicals, the art of caricature and political cartoons has been steadily thriving. Young amateur artists, driven by the spirit of freedom, have made names for themselves in the field. Moreover, a new style of caricature has appeared; the hallmark of this style is its dependence on frugality in drawing and speech. This new aesthetic continues to evolve alongside other familiar, classical styles.
Cinema & Films
Film holds a special place in the Syrian revolution, as it may be the only art form that fomented a revolution within its own medium of expression, paving the way for a cinema of the Syrian revolution.
The use of mobile phones to record events marked the early stages of this art form. These videos, broadcasted on television stations and on the internet, provide the only true testimonies of what is happening on the ground.
Beyond their functionality, however, the use of mobile phones to record videos has created its own technical aesthetic called “Mobile Cinema.” Regardless of whether a director might voluntarily elect to film with cellular phone for aesthetic reasons, it is impossible for the camera operator to use any device other than a cellular phone.
This approach to film is distinguished by the extent of its “shaky camera effect,” which occurs when the camera operator cannot keep the camera under control or maintain a steady position. Also, “Mobile Cinema” often contains disjointed images, as the filmmakers rarely enjoy enough time to beautify the pictures.
These filmmaker-activists are not satisfied with just filming the events around them, but also race to areas of armed conflict, risking their lives to document the truth. Many of them have been arrested and tortured, and some even martyred.
Relatively recently, institutions have begun to support the filmmaker-activists, both technically and financially, thus enabling them to make documentary films based on previously recorded videos.
Comics - "B.D." in French and "Manga" in Japanese - now constitute an art independent from painting and drawing, one that has been ranked number eight, after the seventh art, cinema.
Historically, comics began in Switzerland in 1830 and then moved to other European nations as well as the United States. The first periodicals known as “comic books” appeared in the United States in 1930. Decades later, translation of comics into Arabic started in Egypt. “Samir” was the most prominent - although not the first - of those periodicals; its first issue was published in 1956.
The first models of the Arabic comics showcased efforts to adapt to the Arabic environment. The names of heroes (e.g. Superman, Batman, Spiderman) were translated into Arabic in a literal manner to keep their original meaning. Vicky became Nadia, Clark Kent became Nabil Fawzi, Batman became Subhi, and his sidekick Robin became Zakkour.
Locally produced comic art did not thrive in Syria, or in any other Arab nation. Instead it remained a creative space for amateurs. Today, however, there are a good number of creative Syrian comic artists. Some of them have not failed to join and support the Syrian revolution, and they have created stories pertaining to the revolution. This development could be considered a revolution itself in the world of Syria fine arts.
Under tyrannical rule, critique typically submits to censorship and the desires of the systems monitoring it. Its role becomes confined within the limits enforced on all forms of creativity.
The revolution- its events and innovations- have been subjected to plenty of empty criticism, but it has also formed the bases of many sound critiques. If anything, this indicates how critics are drawn to the revolution and all of its facets. Innovators involved in the revolution, whatever their contributions and however committed they may be, should in turn accept the critique addressing their work. They ought to avoid taking critique personally, and rid themselves of any delusions of grandeur and infallibility passed down from the age of tyranny.
The revolution was launched in the name of freedom above all else. If freedom means releasing the creative spirit in the absence of censorship, then it also means employing the critical mind. The critical mind alone is capable of assessing and motivating creativity, as well as protecting it from the horrors of tyranny.
Demonstrations originate as street gatherings that protest and declare stances toward causes. They had been totally absent from Syrian streets, and in their place were marches. Marches, in turn, became a hallmark of political life during the age of tyranny.
In that time, the public’s participation in a march did not reflect their own desires; instead participation showed submission to the march’s organizers. This meaning completely differs from today’s demonstrations, which are based on the right of freedom of expression.
With the revolution, demonstrations have regained their natural inspiration, as the people involved have grown eager for emancipation from an oppressive regime. Despite the brutality that confronts participants, demonstrations now have an air of festivity. Demonstrations have become a microcosm of the dichotomy between joy in the face of violence on the one hand, and the violence itself and willingness to kill on the other hand. The unbalanced struggle resembles a face-off between a deer and a lion.
The cruelty of the regime has prohibited a central public space for people to gather. Instead they compromise by utilizing fields and spaces all over the country. There are now hundreds of locations where weekly demonstrations, or celebrations, occur. It is clear that peoples’ spirits have strengthened as they grow hopeful and unafraid of challenges. The fear that used to lead them through the regime’s marches has been extinguished.
The Arabic word “mulsak,” which translates to “poster,” precisely expresses this art; what distinguishes design from all other arts is that it depends on displaying a painting or image by way of posting. The poster, whatever its theme, is affixed to a surface and displayed for public viewing.
This visibility makes the poster a promoter of freedom, especially freedom of speech, in whatever space it’s exhibited. Hence the displaying of a poster becomes a liberty that can be hampered by legal restrictions; advertising or showing posters is absolutely prohibited unless one is granted permission.
Posters have accompanied the Syrian revolution since its outbreak. Internet groups cut out parts of posters that date back to the tyrannical years and venerate a particular leader. They then use these parts to make new posters that are, in contrast, open to ideas of freedom. These posters are printed off of the internet and raised in demonstrations. Their natural space, though, remains either in the virtual world or in non-Syrian cities where Syrian activists support the revolution (particularly Beirut).
Drawing & Etching
Drawing is the production of a two-dimensional image based on a subject of reality or fantasy. A drawing could be projected from a surface, imprinted on it, or carved in it; each of these methods has its own specific tools like knives, pencils, or pieces of charcoal. Colors are used, but shades of gray and black are the most common.
Drawing was never an art that garnered as much interest in Syria as photography did, despite the existence of some artists known worldwide. Particularly well-known were Syrian carving specialists.
In parallel to the innovations of those renowned artists that support the revolution and produce significant works, the revolution has also motivated young, amateur artists. This new generation handles various drawing tools, and creates on all available surfaces, including roofs on the receiving end of bombings.
Many informative programs have made this art approachable by supplying the necessary tools, providing opportunities to work on drawings available on the internet, and by highlighting works of high artistic value. Drawings of children in the revolution remain the most substantial kind of drawings as they bear honest, untainted testimonies of Syrians’ despair and sorrow; they convey the dreams destroyed by violence.
A more recent art form, writings appeared on walls some thousands of years after drawings. From its invention to this day, writing has mainly persisted because of the protection that laws afford it.
The brush was the tool typically used for simple, innocuous writings on walls, but when resistance movements against authorities and censorship emerged, the medium of graffiti needed a more practical, swift means of artistic expression. Conveniently, in the early 1960s aerosol paint was introduced.
Modern day artists create two primary types of graffiti: free spraying and stencil graffiti. While free spraying requires a high degree of artistic ability, to create stencil graffiti one sprays paint across a stencil to form an image onto the surface underneath it.
Graffiti has remained faithful to the Syrian revolution since the beginning, even as security forces arrest and gun down graffitists. Revolutionary writings are still being painted on every public surface, even over the black paint that some forces use to cover up messages.
Writing was invented in Syria, so how could tyranny oppress it?
Memory is the vault that preserves an individual’s moments, but it is also collective; moments are experienced by many, so no memory belongs to a single person.
The spiritual, emotional, and intellectual connections that people make in all stages of life create memories, and material entities play an integral role in preserving them.
From ancient cities to the most recent internet post, the collective Syrian memory encompasses all of Syria’s past. The collective memory values and keeps safe details pertaining to both the ages of tyranny and revolution, treating them equally even if history were to do otherwise.
Thus, documenting the collective memory is imperative in order to ensure that recollections withstand the test of time. To this end, events in other nations’ happenings must be included for consideration, not only for comparison purposes but also for the chance to learn and move forward.
The whole world can appreciate the artistic innovations of the Syrian Revolution; these innovations will surely influence and shape Syria’s future. To ensure that history does justice to this revolution and recounts it in its entirety, the revolution’s memory must be archived.
For many years, mural art was closely associated with the classes that held religious and/or economic power. In the 1920s Mexican muralism emerged, headed by the painters Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Muralism became based on the idea of freeing paintings from the boundaries imposed by museums, and releasing them into open space while at the same time highlighting their revolutionary significance. This art movement symbolically achieved validity in 1938, when Leon Trotsky said, “Do you want to know what revolutionary art is? Discover Rivera’s murals.”
Muralism has developed into a global form of art that depicts revolution and opposition. Examples of this expression include the murals that stretched across the Berlin Wall from its construction in 1961 until its collapse, the murals created in Portugal during the 1974 Carnation Revolution, the murals on the Apartheid Wall in Palestine, and, finally, those murals on the walls of towns and cities where the Syrian revolution blazes.
Muralism is not a Syrian conception, but this widespread art form is undeniably an essential element of the Syrian revolution.
Music & Songs
Over the past few decades, Syria has seen great development in music at the level of both composition and performance. The credit is due to music institutes, both public and private. But like other fields of cultural innovation, official frameworks restrained music and, interestingly enough, heavy metal artists were arrested and imprisoned on charges of “devil worship.”
Music has provided the soundtrack for demonstrations since the very first moments of the revolution, drummers’ rhythms blending with crowds’ clapping. It has grown to reach many musical genres.
One can identify three main types of folk and popular music:
1-Singing songs based on traditional melodies or melodies popular with the general public. These songs are re-performed in their original form, but with new words tailored for the revolution. This approach is the most common and frequent in demonstrations.
2-Singing songs with new melodies and lyrics composed by famous artists with established attitudes towards the revolution.
3-Group singing by non-professionals that is broadcasted through social networks and television stations that support the revolution.
Many bands have emerged that adopt Western musical genres including jazz, rap, hip hop, pop, and rock and roll.
Several classical pieces have also been composed that use melodies common in the revolution. Additionally some non-Syrian musicians have created pieces dedicated to the Syrian people.
In theory, painting is distinguished from drawing in its use of colors, but the line between the two arts has thinned in practice; there are now colorless paintings and drawings in color.
Painting attained a very high status in Syria and in the Arab world, and there are Syrian painters who are world-famous. Many of these artists opted to work abroad because of Syria’s small margin of freedom.
Some of the great Syrian artists who were supposedly opposed to the regime turned a blind eye to the revolution when it first began, taking refuge in other countries to continue their work.
On the other hand, the Syrian revolution has stabilized some artists’ oppositional attitudes towards the regime. They live a life of confinement, and some are even tortured or arrested. In spite of these obstacles, they address topics inspired by the changes that have struck the country such as violence, destruction, and martyrdom, some of them also created new forms of expressions that suit those topics.
In addition to academic painting styles, new and more spontaneous forms appeared with the revolution, such as digital painting, that proved their presence in public spaces and the new media, thus becoming an integral part of the Syrian painting museum.
In revolution, the camera becomes a weapon no less important than any other. The camera puts its photographer in danger of being arrested or shot by snipers. One of the most famous photographs from the Syrian revolution is an image of a camera lying in a pool of its martyred photographer’s blood.
Photography plays a significant role in the revolution, as it has circumvented the regime’s media policy since demonstrations began. The regime’s policy is based on three elements: blocking the media from conflict zones, monopolization of information by security forces so that nothing unauthorized is disclosed, and reiteration of one specific perspective to prevent the emergence of new and different ones.
The eyewitness was the first breach of this policy, but the photograph would soon after communicate what speech could not: tangible, visual documentation. Hundreds of words could never fully convey the destruction in devastated cities. Likewise words could never adequately express the poignant image of a child lamenting his or her family.
The role of photography isn’t limited by its function in the media; many professional photographers engage in the fine arts. These photographers use outstanding artistic techniques to express the revolution and its defining moments.
Publications - Online
The significance of modern means of communication in the Arab Spring is undisputed. Although Syrian society took its time adapting to them, they have certainly made their mark in the Syrian revolution.
Long before the revolution was even launched, cyberspace was utilized to oppose the regime. With the increase in violence, the internet has become the main medium for expression and exchange of opinions and information. Videos uploaded on YouTube function for these reasons and were, at one point, the only visual resource for what was happening on the ground. Facebook groups comprise another important means of communication. Some Facebook groups specialize in reporting news about everyday life and providing instructions for cases of emergency, while other groups organize participative forums concerned with a specific topic or public figure. For political and civil organizations that have no way to express themselves in the physical public space, the cyber world has provided them with a space to publish their statements and political analyses. Above all, the most popular form of online publishing remains the "post" on virtual walls. Posts encompass everything from the kindest and most admirable of writings to the worst invectives.
The virtual world has served the revolution greatly, but it has also revolutionized old thinking and mechanisms of collaboration in the revolutionary movement.
Publications - Printed
Talk about the death of print publishing never ends, it seems, whether from the environmental perspective of saving trees or from the digital perspective of promoting electronic publishing. Statistics, however, prove that the consumption of paper continues to grow globally, unimpeded by these factors.
Print publications vary according to the purpose they serve, and four forms can be observed in the Syrian revolution:
1-Clippings: These little square or rectangular pieces of paper carry the slogans of the revolution. Their small size is useful for hiding and transporting them to markets and squares where they are then disseminated.
2-Leaflets and Fliers: The oldest and most widespread medium in the world, leaflets can declare a collection of ideas or positions, or invite people to gatherings. Leaflets are directly exchanged or posted onto walls.
3-Pamphlets: Once known as revolutionary journalism, pamphlets are inexpensively printed in two colors and consist of only a few pages.
4-Books: Numerous books have been published about the Syrian revolution, particularly compared to those published annually on others issues related to the Arab world. Of course, these books are all published outside of Syria and in different languages.
The invention of the transistor radio in 1960 revolutionized the practice of and right to inquiry. Everyone could receive news, information, and music, no matter their location. Television does enjoy widespread popularity, and satellite television has broken down state monopolization of information. Nevertheless, radio has remained families’ and individuals’ favorite companion.
With the development of modern means of communication, not only receiving but also establishing radio stations became easy.
There are several television stations that take a stand with the Syrian revolution, but they do not have radio counterparts. Some youth groups noticed this deficiency and established their own low-cost radio stations that are broadcasted over the internet at specific times.
These radio stations focus on the issues that reflect life in the time of revolution. They do not report news from the battlefield as much as they concentrate on broadcasting cultural and social programs. These programs utilize language that is free from complexity and close to the people. The credit probably goes to groups that consist entirely of young, peaceful activists who run these stations and contributed to the launching of the revolution.
Past Syrian civilizations left behind countless sculpted remnants. Islamic culture, though, opposes this specific art form, so for a long period sculpture languished.
When modernization reached the region at the beginning of the twentieth century, sculpture thrived again.
Authority in Syria shifted from a ruling party to a singular individual, and in the period between 1973 and 2000 the statues of Assad Sr. multiplied and became a dominant visual element in the public space. There was not a governmental edifice without a bust or full-body statue of the "immortal leader.”
The purpose behind the domination of these monuments and statues was to influence the citizens’ perception such that the leader came into concrete existence. Rather than remaining abstract or imaginary, he became a part of citizens’ physical reality.
Novice and veteran sculptors alike have introduced innovations in all forms of the art such as patterns, molding, monuments, stone and iron statues, and ornamentations. Nevertheless, sculpture has not been one of the arts to flourish with the revolution; this art requires a safe space where the sculptor can work and exhibit his or her work.
On the other hand, demolishing monuments and statues became a feature of the revolution. These actions have freed public space from the symbols of tyranny to replace them with monuments to freedom.
In 1840 the world’s first stamp featured an image of Queen Victoria. This introduction initiated the tradition of stamps bearing the images of newly appointed monarchs and presidents. Stamps featuring pictures of heads of state abound in tyrannical countries. This way all national celebrations and notable events become associated with the leaders and their achievements.
The Syrian revolution has popularized the issuing of stamps attributed to the movement. These stamps resemble official commemorative stamps, but they serve as visual chronicles of revolution’s outstanding events. They honor its figures, its martyrs, activists, and the people- Syrian or not- whose actions or statements have influenced supporters of the revolution. These stamps are not published but remain virtual, carried through modern social networks.
Formally published or not, these stamps comprise an integral form of the revolution’s creativity and constitute a principal part of its legacy.
Though like other artistic fields Syrian theater has faced obstacles and hardships, it has also known stages of truly glory. The presence of a number of great writers, directors, critics, and actors constitutes the key factor in this success. The Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts has also played a major role in shaping a true structure of knowledge and national culture. Many activists in the revolution were students of the Institute.
The creativity of playwrights itself notwithstanding, the revolution has caused many challenges to the theater. These obstacles mainly relate to the dictates of the theater; work in the theater is collective and lengthy. It requires a secure space for a group of people during the rehearsal period, which just cannot be provided in these conditions. Also, theater isn’t always reactionary art; it does not respond as quickly to life’s events and news as other means of creative expression.
Nevertheless, some rare experiments in theater are found inside Syria. More of such work takes place in other countries, where Syrian playwrights have fled to escape the violence of the regime and seek a safe workspace.
It is important to recognize the simple but highly significant work focused on children. Some young volunteers implement these initiatives in shelters for families who have been displaced by violence.
The video is, essentially, a series of techniques employed to record moving images and display them through electronic media (as opposed to the traditional, cinematic media). While analogical recording was the predominant technique in the seventies and eighties, digital recording has now expanded the use of videos, enhanced the accuracy of its performance, and facilitated other methods. This technique has enabled any individual to become a cinematographer, to depict movement and not merely still images.
The video closely relates to other arts, especially cinema and film, so it is not easy to demarcate a creative field specific to video. Just as films employ video techniques, videos use the artistic techniques that film previously monopolized.
The video plays a significant role in the Syrian revolution. Videos allow for accurate recording and therefore pure depiction in the media, particularly YouTube and satellite television channels.
For the sake of academic leniency, clips filmed on mobile phones without cinema cameras can be compiled as creative video productions.