Azza Abo Rebieh
Born in 1980 in Hama, Azza Abo Rebieh graduated from Damascus University, Faculty of Fine Arts (Etching Department) in 2002. She has also won multiple other awards such as first prize in the Annual Youth Exhibition in Damascus 2006 and the third prize at the Colour of Damascus Exhibition 2005, Italy, curated by The European Commission Delegation. Her work has been exhibited in Damascus, Beirut, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Sofia, Uzice, Barcelona, Vaasa, London and Chicago and has been acquired by institutions includding The British Museum and Atassi Foundation.
Her most recent work, which debuted as her solo exhibition On a Thread at the 392rmeil393 gallery in Beirut, is markedly different from the dark washes of ink so characteristic of previous work. Here, brighter palettes comprising tulle and string see Abo Rebieh very literally ‘draw’ with fine black string directly onto the canvas. In a sense, they continue her fascination with etching, achieving a similar clarity of line, albeit through a different medium. Delicate yet powerful, they also build on the artist’s continuing meditations on life and its intransience and have introduced a sense of freedom to her working process. The shift from darker, more brooding colours also creates an effect that, at least upon first glance, appears brighter and more whimsical: “The works are more colourful here than those I have done before,” she explains, “but the existence of colour has very little to do with optimism. Rather, with the power of how life continues, despite everything, even when balancing on a thread.”
Bed is important because it is the first work that I executed in thread. While preparing for my exhibition Traces last year (which comprised about 30 etchings), I felt an unbearable weight upon me. It left me feeling as though I was gasping for air, and this turned my attention from etching to delicate transparencies. I grabbed this thread and worked without cutting it or stopping, feeling something within myself grow stronger and stronger as I went along, free from the academic rules of pen and ink. I felt terrible relief. I then used a ‘soft-ground’ techniqiue used in etching to engrave the finished work onto copper plate. And that is how I began experimenting with thread and cloth: it is the exact opposite of etching, which has much more defined contrasts. I was interested in the nuances of tulle as a medium.
On the Leaf
To me, elements of nature are just like creatures – leaves, flowers, they may not speak, but they are beautiful and we can each learn something from them. In silence, one can spend hours just being – appreciating the natural world and finding peace. In that sense, the girl in On the Leaf – this human being – could be any one of us, clutching a flower, a silent yet powerful symbol of life, and the bird, waiting to fly away with her, to fly to freedom. We are all somewhere, looking for lightness, tired of our own weight, wanting to be carefree and light enough to be able to be buoyed by this thin, coloured leaf. I painted this with fine thread.
This bag contains all of my memories. It could even contain my homeland. I would like to be able to decide on where I am, and am tired of not being able to choose. On a technical level, the bag was one of the most difficult parts to execute, because I had to bring out its depth and dimensions without being able to resort to dyes to give it gradient, the fabric rather limited that. It’s also quite challenging to draw with the thread directly onto the canvas, because I don’t do pen tracings first.
For me, this work means I exist: awaiting and somewhat scared, lying on this thin thread, I have a lot of feelings of love and attachment and warmth. What if I was the size of pomegranate and I was hugging it? Can you imagine this feeling? Or that you are inside it? There are so many meanings in this rich fruit, in its color, its symbolism and the cultural heritage it shares across civilizations.