The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011

From art galleries and cultural centres to awards, grants events and artistic criticism, writing and production, no sector of the Syrian visual arts scene has been unaffected by the ongoing calamities of the 2011 uprising. Alaa Rashidi reviews the current status quo of the Syrian visual arts scene, exploring the diverse and often contradictory contexts in the field of critical writing on Contemporary Syrian art.



This paper surveys the visual arts scene in Syria since 2011. Taking into consideration the vast and intense changes, transformations and experiences it has witnessed over a nine-year period, the research is divided into four main sections and ends with conclusions that sum up the overall vision. 

In its first section, Art Galleries and Cultural Centres, the research provides a quasi-statistical insight into the number of visual arts exhibitions and galleries in Syria in the year of 2011, and then reviews the abrupt changes sustained in the same year, namely the shutdown of exhibition spaces affiliated with foreign art centres. This section also surveys the most prominent private art galleries that have become inactive, and the emergence of grassroots exhibition spaces inside cafés and restaurants. Lastly, it reviews state-run galleries and the establishment of a National Center for Visual Arts. 

The second section, State-Sponsored Visual Art Events and Activities, covers the launch of State Appreciation and State Incentive Awards for Arts and the main state-run visual arts events and symposia in the country, as well as the major dilemmas faced by such events and activities. The third section, Departed Artists and Art Critics, explores renowned artists, critics and researchers in the field of visual arts who have passed away in recent years. Finally, the fourth and the most extended section, Creativity and Problematics of Criticism, goes beyond visual arts production within Syria itself in an effort to evaluate and critically research collective visual art production of the contemporary Syrian art scene as a whole. To this end, the section reviews several studies and critical essays that provide conflicting perspectives in their assessment of Syrian visual art production, thus exposing two underlying schools of thought in terms of art criticism; the first believes the Syrian visual arts movement is currently void and has reached a deadlock, while the second highlights the spirit of novelty and creativity in this very same movement.

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

French Cultural Centre in Damascus


Al Hayat Al Tashkilya (‘Life of Plastic Arts’) magazine (1) lists approximately 150 exhibitions held nationwide in the year of 2011, organised in state-run or private galleries, archaeological or heritage sites, or government or foreign cultural centres. Some galleries are more active than others, such as the Arab Cultural Center (2) in Abu Rummaneh (10 exhibitions), the Russian Cultural Center in Damascus (10 exhibitions), Al-Sha’ab Gallery for Fine Arts (nine exhibitions) and eight exhibitions each at the French Cultural Center, German Goethe-Institut in Damascus and Art House Gallery in Damascus.

Galleries of Foreign Cultural Centres

When surveying galleries specialised in visual arts, the damage sustained by the scene is epitomised in the closure of several previously active and influential venues, particularly those affiliated with foreign art centres. As they closed their doors inside Syria, their art activities came to a standstill, and galleries were shutdown. Within Damascus, prominent and influential spaces to have closed in this way include the galleries of the French Cultural Center and the German Goethe-Institut, as well as the galleries of the British Council and the Danish Institute. 

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

External view of Atassi Gallery in Damascus

Private Art Galleries

Two Damascus-based private art galleries with a prominent place in the history of Syrian art have closed down: Atassi Gallery and Ayyam Gallery. (3) Not only has the closure of these two galleries resulted in a reduction in the number of exhibitions hosted, but it has also led to a loss of ideas and art projects, unique in terms of both themes and design concepts.  

Galleries of Cafés and Restaurants 

Although they have existed before 2011, amongst the closures of major galleries, several galleries attached tocafés and restaurants have filled an important void within the commercial arts scene, including Ninar Art Café, Sham Mahal Art Café and Nai Art Café. However, the quality of the spaces themselves, as well as the art that they exhibit, varies extensively. 

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

The National Centre for Visual Arts in Damascus

State-Run Galleries and the National Center for Visual Arts

During the period covered in this essay, state-run galleries have sought to continue organising events. These include Al-Sha’ab Gallery, Khan Assad Basha and Opera House Gallery for Culture and Arts in Damascus and Tishreen Gallery of Fine Arts in Aleppo, amongst others. Their persistence demonstrates a remarkable perseverance and the efforts of government officials, who, entrusted with cultural affairs, work to ensure such galleries are operational in an effort to compensate for the loss incurred by the closure of the previously mentioned galleries.   

The government has, therefore, sought to provide new, alternative exhibition spaces, most notably the National Center for Visual Arts. Launched in 2015, the Center’s mission was summarised in director Ghyath Al-Akhras’s opening speech as: “reviving the creative visual art scene in line with the pace of the third millennium and interacting with Arab and international visual arts movements”. (4) The opening ceremony was remarkably well attended by state figures and representatives from the art scene as well as receiving extensive media coverage. In a parallel event, the Center organised a retrospective exhibition dedication to pioneers of Syrian visual arts. “The cultural strategy of this project is wide-ranging, comprehensive, and a first in the region,” wrote Dr. Nadia Khust in the show’s curatorial statement. “The project is of an Arab and international appeal. We are a part of a Pan-Arab nation, and a part of the world we influence and are supposed to empower our position in”. (5) 

This is also evidence of the interest taken by the Syrian government in establishing and strengthening the role of the Center in order for its work to reverberate across the region, and for it to become a bridge connecting Syria to the Arab and international worlds. In a research paper entitled The National Center for Visual Arts: Coerced Labour and the Value of National Art, critic Ammar Al-Ma’amoun analyses the Center’s working methods, and questions issues starting from its architectural design and infrastructure to the genres of paintings and artworks exhibited and acquired, administration, (6) as well as its dealings with artists. Al-Ma’amoun indicates that selected artworks and events held at the centre are subject to the censorship of the official governmental discourse. “Intermediaries who handle artworks are affiliated with the state and its political standards,” the author asserts. 

“Following the creation of the artwork, the agreement process is regulated by political authorities. This is especially true when article 14 of the rules of procedure states that each member of the Syrian Plastic Artist’s Union has a duty to submit artworks decided upon by the Executive Office or the relevant branch for Pan-Arab or national events or occasions marked by the Union, and that is in exchange for a fee specified by the commissioning authority. (7) This article considers the artist as a building-block in forming a national political identity and its symbols. According to American researcher Lisa Wedeen, such symbols and emblems in Syria are a kind of exhibitionistic hegemony. Thus, citizens adopt and consume public national symbols and aesthetic forms despite not believing in them, doing so in order to identify their belonging to the obedient mass of the citizens”. (8)  

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

Tartus‎ Symposium for Wood and Stone Carving


State Appreciation and State Incentive Awards for Arts

Legislative Decree No. 11 of 2012 was issued to: “Initiate two awards in the fields of literature and arts for creatives and artists, in an effort to appreciate their creative, intellectual and artistic talents”. (9) The awards were to be granted under the title State Appreciation Award and State Incentive Award (SAASIA). Article 7 of the decree details the formation of the Award committee, to be headed by the Minister of Culture, who would select six other specialist members. There is no doubt that the Syrian cultural scene is in a dire need of such awards, however, a quick overview of the list of winners of its first eight editions reveals that most recipients of the SAASIA have been renowned names in the domain of visual art, including Nazem Al Jaafari (awarded in 2012), Elias Zayyat (2013), Leila Nseir (2014), filmmaker Abdellatif Abdelhamid (2015) and Asma Fayoumi (2018). Nonetheless, other awarded names call into question the suitability of the jury, selection criteria of winners and the actual purpose of the Award as it has also been granted to actress Salma Al-Masri (2016) and singers Mayada Al-Hennawy (2017) and George Wassouf (2019). 

State-Sponsored Visual Art Events, Exhibitions, and Symposium 

Significant efforts are being exerted by cultural officers to keep major annual events going, mainly the Annual Fall Exhibition and the Annual Spring Exhibition, as well as several sculpture and photography symposia held at Damascus Citadel. Some target young participation, such as the Woodcarving Symposium for Youth and Professionals, Young Creative Talents in Photography and Sculpture, Tartus‎ Symposium for Wood and Stone Carving, a ceramic symposium, and a symposium for artists specialising in drawings for children. Also organised regularly are art exhibitions and symposia to mark national celebrations and thematic group exhibitions exploring topics like homeland, Syria, martyrs and national struggle. Few calligraphy exhibitions have been held, but worth noting is the Whispers of Letters show focusing on Arabic language. The diversity of such events shows that the Syrian Fine Art Administration – as well as centres and institutions affiliated with the Ministry of Culture – ensure the continuity of art events and initiate new ones while focusing on symposia that seek to attract young artists from different governorates to promote the concept of dialogue among diverse Syrian geographies.    

Dilemmas of Annual Exhibitions and Visual Art Events 

To assess the organisational and artistic standards of these exhibitions, I refer to a 2013 essay by art critic Ghazi Ana entitled The Annual Fall Exhibition, which states some challenges and problematic issues, such as recurring names in juries – although, according to the writer, these members simply don’t have enough time to attend most of the jury sessions. He also highlights the absence of many artists, citing the difficult situation in the country as the cause of this. However, Ana’s hope for this annual exhibition “is not to reach a situation that tarnishes its reputation and history due to exceptional conditions, and for the absence of many renowned artists not to justify enlisting untalented names. This is for the sake of preserving the minimum standards of the Syrian visual arts scene”. (10) Ana concludes by noting that the budget allocated to these two annual exhibitions “does not make sense anymore”. (11) 


Before expanding upon the issues and dilemmas of art criticism post-2011, we must first quickly go through influential names that have made a difference in the era preceding that year. If the art galleries which have closed their doors are considered a loss to be compensated for in some way, then the Syrian visual arts scene has lost several artists and art critics who have passed away in recent years. Considering the importance of their critical theories and art practices, it is crucial to acknowledge these departed figures here. 

Considered among the leading figures in the field of criticism in the entire history of Syrian visual arts, Tarek Sharif (1935–2013) established The Life of Plastic Arts magazine and was its managing editor for 20 years. In its early years, Sharif’s articles and research papers constituted the cornerstone of the magazine, specialised in art-related studies. He also wrote several significant books: Twenty Artists from Syria (1968); Artist Naim Ismail: Modern Art in Arab Soul (1990); Artist Fateh Al-Moudarres: Modern Art with Expressionist Sores(1991); Art and Non-Art, 1983; Contemporary Art in Syria (1996); Five Artists from Syria (1995) and Louay Kayyali: Art Modernism and Human Content (2008). 

Art critic Salaheddine Mohamed (1949­–2016) also wrote extensively about Syrian visual arts from the 1960s to his death. He also produced almost 100 televised films about Syrian artists. Mohamed was also selected as a member of the editorial board of Arab Art magazine issued by the Arab Plastic Artists Union, and in 1987 he became a member of the advisory body of the London-based Art magazine. He wrote several books, including Artist Practices of Izzedine Shammout, Silk Road, The New Sham, and most prominently his book about artist Louay Kayyali. 

In 2017 Syria also lost art historian, critic and academic Dr. Afif Bahnassi (1928–2017). A renowned figure in visual arts criticism and research, history of art, and art science, his publications were essentials in the curriculum of Damascus Faculty of Fine Arts. Dr. Bahnassi established the Fine Arts Syndicate and became its first president. He also established the Faculty of Fine Arts, where he taught Art and Architecture. His most prominent publications are: Aesthetics of Arab Art, 1979; Arab Art between Identity and Dependency (1979); A Trilingual Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Art Terms (1981); Onset of Arab Islamic Art (1983); History of Art and Architecture (1996); Arab Visual Art (2003); From Feather to Laptop: Art and Aesthetic Thought (2013); Artefacts between the Applied and Visual Arts (2013); and Syrian Archaeological Legacy (2014). 

Among the most prominent departed artists: Imad Sabri (1958–2013), Ghassan Siba’i (1949–2015), Mohammed Al-Wahibi (1947–2015), Marwan Kassab-Bachi (1934–2016) and Nazir Naba’a (1938–2016).

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

Khaled Dawwa, Up, 2017


From the 1960s to date, the Syrian visual arts movement has been rich with prominent and distinct creative practices. Art critic Talal Moualla distinguishes between the existence of important art practices and a distinct Syrian studio practice: “There are studios, but there is no Syrian art movement. There are important [art] practices, but are they regulated in a movement? Also, what about openness among generations and ideas exchanged in the studio?” (12) I will mention the most prominent figures in the Syrian visual art scene, highlighting the practices of emerging artists and looking at their unique styles. To this end, I will survey works included in symposia, competitions, and which have won seasonal and annual competitions.     

In 2011, the Passion Competition for Young Artists granted 12 painting and sculpture awards in two main categories: amateurs and young artists. Few works possessed novel characteristics or critical narratives, with the exception of works by Maysan Salman and Samer Al-Roumani. Similarly, in surveying the works featured in the 2013 Sculpture Symposium for Youth, it is remarkable to notice that the bulk of art critic Ghazi Ana’s review of the symposium revolved for the most part around works either inspired by or expressive of the female body, with the exception of a reference to Sandra Al-Rayys’ sculpture of a clef musical symbol. Furthermore, recurrent themes of the Annual Fall Exhibition remain still lives, self-portraits in reflective postures or subjects taken from banal daily life. Among artworks of worth dealing with different themes recently have been a painting by Lina Dieb, and an iron and wood sculpture by Waddah Salama. In the Annual Spring Exhibition, a graphic work by Jehan Zinedine.

But these are a mere introduction to reflections on the Syrian visual arts scene. Hereafter comes the role of criticism and specialised research in presenting the opinions of professionals in evaluating Syrian artistic creativity. It must be mentioned, however, that critical writings on Contemporary Syrian art are characterised by heterogeneous readings and theories, and even contrasting views among art critics. These diverse readings can be divided into three categories (as outlined below) and cover critical writing with opposing opinions, emerging and inspirational artistic topics, and the current status of Contemporary Syrian visual arts.

Syrian Visual Art Production: Between Void and Novelty 

In his essay Critical Approach to Painting and Sculpture in Syrian Studios, Adib Makhzoom offers a matter-of-fact, critical reading of the realities of the contemporary artistic production in the domains of painting and sculpture: 

“Modern Syrian sculptural practices continue to stagnate in the echoing of familiar and ready-made formations to the extent that they are not even distinguishable from each other. Some practices across several generations present similar and recurrent sculptural motifs with a short-sighted perception that negatively limits artistic vision and technical skills… Whether it is of wood, stone, bronze or plaster, most contemporary Syrian sculptural practices continue to stagnate within the framework of easy equations. This crisis is even more aggravated in artworks executed within sculptural symposiums in their geometric and absurd forms. Formulas recur in almost every single exhibition”. (13)   

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in her essay The Question of Medium in Syrian Sculpture, art critic Nour Asalia provides a completely different perspective when evaluating Syrian sculptural practice: 

“With the onset of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the whole movement of Syrian art– with all its specialisations – has witnessed an unprecedented and expansionary shift. In particular, the renewed use of sculpture, and a revision of accepted forms, constitute one of the most distinctive shifts to have come out of it. This has manifested particularly in the works of the new generation of artists who have been forced to move to other countries because of the war. It should be noted that their views on – and selection of – the raw materials they choose are clearly influenced by the violent events and images of destruction and ruin to which they have been exposed. Sometimes, they seem clearly raw, just like the rawness of the atrocious war”. (14) 

Asalia cites several new names in the art scene that are often markedly absent in other Syrian critical reviews or cultural journalism, despite having innovative practices within the history of Syrian sculptural creativity. Among these cites the following artists and works: Khaled Dawwa, Debout!; Mohammad Omran, Waiting; Abdel Karim Majdel Beik, Postponed Democracy; and Randa Maddah, Restoration. Asalia also highlights novelty in terms of medium and artistic styles used, as well as the themes of these new art practices. In contrast to Makhzoom’s essay, Asalia celebrates experimentation as a creative phenomenon that characterises contemporary Syrian sculptural production: “The value of experimentation lies in the unfamiliar possibilities that arise from it (..) and a tendency toward a broader liberalism (..) The desire of young Syrian visual artists to innovate tools of expression and materials drives some of them to resort to other, new media”. (15) To open the door wide open for novelty and experimentation, she cites an expressive quote by art historian Paul Louis Rinuy: “Contemporary sculpture, in particular, has connections with other arts that can produce various hybrid genres, such as the cinema-sculpture, acoustic sculpture, photography as sculpture, installation, dancing, performance and furniture sculptures.” (16)

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

Akram Halabi, Cheek Series, 2013

Syrian Visual Art Production: Between Dependency and Authentic Innovation 

Entitled Contemporary Visual Arab Art and Technology: Timid Approach and Blind Dependency, art critic Dr. Mahmoud Shahin expresses his opinion on Arab art movements’ dependency on European art practices, and their  lacking uniqueness and inability to innovate: “Established in the Arab countries, a nucleus of visual art movements that were imbued – and still are – by manifestations of Western trends. Adapting their genres and techniques, these movements became loyal dependents and created an Arab peer for each Western artist. Thus, contemporary Arab visual movements became a mere echo of their Western counterparts”. (17) 

However, we reach a totally opposite conclusions upon reading an essay that addresses the same topic of the relationship between art and modern techniques. In Postmodernism and its Effect on Plastic Arts in Syria, artist and critic Mohammad Omran examines artistic practices which resorted to modern techniques and new media, from the 1990s to the present day, tracing their development as they accumulated more authenticity and peculiarity over time: 

“Most of the artworks produced during the period of the war and revolution were [by artists] keen on creating a shock, similar to that created by the daily violence lived in Syria. Furthermore, the extraordinary and accelerating changes taking place on the tragic Syrian scene during the past eight years have led to shifts in the relationship between the artist and the Syrian cause. This has been reflected in artists’ relationships to their tools and creative production. Several of them, the majority of whom have left the country, have started using new media in the countries they have taken refuge in and are, as such, bringing forth the theme of war through new media”. (18)  

Omran goes on to shed light on several contemporary art projects that show a state of continued renewal and innovation in using new media. Absent from the “official” critical narrative propagated within Syria, many names to international readers may be familiar, including: Akram Halabi, Cheek series; Shaza Al-Safadi, Promises; Khadija Baker, Tracing Traces; Tammam Azzam, A Happy Journey; and Sulafa Hijazi, In Full Swing. Omran explores their peculiarity in regards to their use of new media and the artists’ delicate choices of using contemporary techniques to create their works. Examining these projects proves novelty is not limited to the technicality of the works, but also applies to the aesthetic side, as well as the concepts they incite in the viewer’s mind. Thus, the creative process becomes relevant to the concept and the theme, the method of expression, aesthetic vision and artistic techniques.  

The Visual Arts Scene in Syria Since 2011 - Features - Atassi Foundation

Bissan Al Charif, Sham, 2016-2017

Syrian Visual Art Production: New Concepts in Sources of Inspiration   

Not only are there vast differences in which artists and practices are covered in contemporary Syrian critical writing, the themes and topics themselves also vary widely from writer to writer. For example, in his essay Colour Palette in Contemporary Syrian Painting, Adib Makhzoom surveys the vast Syrian geography. He explores the nuances of light and overtones of distinct local landscapes across country’s different regions, and their impact on paintings. They include: Colour Palette in Coastal Cities with Hues Matching the Sea, Colour Palette in Cities and Plains of Northern Syria, Colour Peculiarities of Syrian Al-Jazira Region, and The Influence of Basalt Stone Colour on Paintings of Southern Syria. (19) 

Makhzoom traces artistic inspiration to nature, addressing the landscape setting through a lyrical poetic and exemplary methodology. For instance, the section entitled Colour and Light Palette of Damascus and the Surrounding Areas, is a classic example of his excessive aesthetic and poetic language: “Damascene artists, and artists based in the city, inhale Jasmine breeze… Damascene artist holds tight to the euphoria of flower colours and Damascene roses… The Damascene colour palette is associated - first and foremost - with colours of roses and Damascene plants”. (20) The depth to which he explores these natural phenoma is detailed and evocative. However, what he does not explore – nor make even passing mention of – is the effect of the war on these artists’ practice and, one assumes, on the landscape.

The whole world has witnessed the scale of destruction and the consequence of violent armed conflict which has completely wiped out neighbourhoods, and left death lingering across the land. Makhzoom’s overlooking of the catastrophic and complete destruction in Syria prevents him from considering these encounters as new inspiring concepts for contemporary Syrian literature, theatre, cinema and visual art. For example, destruction is a central theme in the works of Azzam; Hiba Al Ansari’s installation works evoke bombardment – and, to this end she used a maths book she found in a bombarded house in the town of Kfar Nabel as the inspiration for one series of works – while Sami Al Ajouri has also presented a series of paintings mixing concepts of war and peace. Another example is the work of Bissane Al Charif, who is based in Paris yet still affected by the events in her homeland, explores themes of displacement and forced migration by documenting women’s collective memory in their struggle.      

These examples illustrate how Syrian artists have turned extremely harsh human experiences into powerful themes in their work. Randa Maddah’s introduction to her Restoration project is an ideal example: “It is a visual installation trying to answer a question: How would I digest destruction? This work is an attempt to delve into memory and its relation to the space and the changes it sustains. It explores how destruction, borders, walls and barriers that completely changed the map and forms of a space and transformed the life and language of its people, turn into quasi-normal walls restored in an absurd way, although unrestorable. The work also deals with brain failure to restore pre-war memories. What remains to restore the self is mere fragile and vulnerable crust fragments”. (21) To find that some art critics operating within the official cannon can so completely overlook the very existence of the war and its implied as well as overt effects on artists speaks to a major disconnect between the reality of what is taking place and a more romanticised view of Syrian artistic practice.

5. Findings

The three aforementioned problematic issues in relation to art criticism present a set of conclusions and highlight a problem in reading Syrian contemporary visual art practices by critics and researchers. Thus, the findings could be summarized in the following points:

Political engagement: Cultural officers in charge of Syrian visual art and art critique ignore art practices imbued with social and political issues. Since 2011, artworks have been strongly influenced by political elements, so much so that one form of renewal in art production has been artists’ desire to present work able to reflect what society has been witnessing. Official cultural institutions and writings, however, pay no attention to this seismic shift. Contemporary Syrian art is singled out from old practices by its engagement in political and social affairs. As noted, overlooking such politically and socially engaged art results in cultural officers and art criticism living in a state of retreat, becoming regressive, and with no real critical influence nor impact within the art scene itself.

Social issues: Since 2010, innovative Syrian art projects have been trying to reflect upon the actual lived experience of Syrian – thus war, destruction, death, immigration and forced displacementbecome issues that are not solely political in nature, but, importantly encompass strong social and cultural themes as well. Their interrelation has led to contemporary Syrian art practices that showcase a completely new bond between art and society – a more reflective approach as artists parse through the complex meanings and implications of what is taking place around the, rather than a more simple and real time documentation of events, as might apply to the work of previous generations. As noted, such socially engaged artworks have no room in state-sponsored symposia and events, and are completely ignored by cultural officers, state-sponsored art criticism and journalism. This is despite the fact that state media, news bulletins, political talk shows and other related media (such as television shows and movie productions of the National Film Organisation) do address such topics frequently. This shows that those officially in charge of the cultural movement and art criticism in the country are still in a state of a complete denial regarding the existence of such topics, or, at the very least, are confused as to how to address them. Such delay in writing about and defining these topics would result in those cultural officers and art critics losing their ability to influence, or, worse still, genuinely understand and interpret the current Syrian visual arts scene. Their very ability to reach accurate readings and critical conclusions would decline. However, such a decline could also draw attention to new cultural protagonists and art critics who are much more willing and flexible to tackle such issues, frequently presented in TV series and shows aired by state-run media and outlets aligned with it.  

Artistic language: To devise new styles and methods of expression, contemporary Syrian art seeks inspiration from new vocabulary: displacement, fear, oppression, death and nothingness. Not taking such new vocabulary into account would result in inaccurate readings of Syria art since 2011. How would a cultural actor or an art critic evaluate the visual art movement while incapable of fully grasping its new vocabulary, current themes, and rebellious practices. 

In spite of the markedly different voices in how it is written about and analysed within and outside Syria, the visual arts movement itself cannot be so easily sub-categorized as inside and outsideSyria. Plenty of art practices based abroad have nothing new to present regarding political and social dimensions of their creative works. Moreover, many Syrian artists currently residing overseas still adopt the same styles and art production methodologies of the pre-2011 era, without addressing the social and political topics that stood out in the recent years within the framework of independent Syrian art. The same applies to art criticism. Several Syria-based writers criticize the current situation of the Syrian visual arts movement. In brief, classifying art and art criticism into based inside or outside Syria would fail to formulate a critical and objective vision of the realities of the Syrian visual art movement.         

Any rising art movement needs the support of cultural officers and those who possess professional opinion and experience. All artists are in need of specialised reviews and critical overview of their artworks, something cultural officers and those experienced and efficient should focus on. In this regard, the role of alternative and independent cultural institutions is to be highlighted, especially in their support for arts, including The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), Ettijahat - Independent Culture, Culture Resource and Atassi Foundation. Such institutions contribute in supporting Syrian visual art practices with a novel and independent narratives in terms of the relation between art and society.    


1. Issues related to exhibitions and visual art events for the year of 2011, issues 93-94/2011 and 95-96/2012.

2. ‘Arab’, in this context, referring to government/state-run, rather than a nation state.

3. Although Ayyam Gallery maintains gallery spaces in Dubai and Beirut; and the Atassi Gallery has metamorphosed into the Atassi Foundation – however, it no longer conducts commercial gallery activities.

4. Al-Akhras, Ghyath, the opening speech of the National Center for Visual Arts, Damascus, 2015.

5. Khust, Nadia, curatorial statement of the opening retrospective exhibition of the National Center for Visual Arts, Damascus, 2015.

6. The director of the National Center for Visual Arts Ghyath Al-Akhras is the uncle of Syria’s First Lady, Asma Al-Akhras. 

7. Unknown author, Decree No 1217, rules of procedure of the Plastic Artist’s Union in the Syrian Arab Republic, Plastic Artist’s Union, (unknown date), 1/06/2020

8. Al-Ma’amoun, Ammar, The National Center for Visual Arts: Coerced Labour and the Value of National Art, Kalamoon Journa, an issue dedicated to visual art, p4­­­­­–5.

9. As described by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

10. Ana, Ghazi, The Annual Fall Exhibition, The Life of Plastic Arts magazine, issue 99, September 2013, p 140. 

11. Ibid.

12. An interview with artist and critic Talal Moulla, Dr. Ali Al-Ra’I, Talal Moulla: Faces Screaming Silently, The Life of Plastic Arts magazine, issue 101, 2014, p 85. 

13. Makhzoom, Adib, Critical Approach to Painting and Sculpture in Syrian Studios, The Life of Plastic Arts magazine, issue 98, 2013, p 57.

14. Asalia, Nour, The Question of Medium in Syrian Sculpture, Atassi Foundation Journal, 3rd issue (dedicated to sculpture), Fall 2018. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Rinuy, Paul Louis, La sculpture contemporaine, Presses Universitaires Vincennes, 2018. p.7.

17. Shahi, Mahmoud, Contemporary Visual Arab Art and Technology: Timid Approach and Blind Dependency, The Life of Plastic Arts magazine, issue 101, 2014, p 22.  

18. Omran, Mohammad, Postmodernism and its Effect on Plastic Arts in Syria, Atassi Foundation Journal, 4th issue (dedicated to new media).

19. Makhzoom, Adib, Colour Palette in Contemporary Syrian Painting, The Life of Plastic Arts magazine, issue 97, 2013, p 44. 

20. Ibid.

21. Maddah, Randa, Introduction to her Restoration project.