This issue of the Journal is dedicated to the galleries and collectors of Syrian art, and the events that have impacted its collecting and exhibition. These include current trends in institutional support, the mandates of some of the country’s most prominent collections, and the current challenges faced by galleries, as well as how artists and galleries can work together.
Rafia Qodmani asks ‘What makes people buy art’? in her long-form essay examining the origins of art collecting in Syria and the socio-economic and political fluctuations that have in turn both encouraged and impeded its growth. Looking to the present, Essam Darwich’s ‘A Message from Damascus’ looks at the here and now, and ponders upon the struggles of artists and galleries as well as the changes in art patronage since the war. “Despite being modest in number,” he writes, “the mere presence of these collectors [is] enough to revive hopes.”
Never has it been more important for there to be safe custodians of Syrian art, and we also speak to two such guardians – Khaled Samawi, founder of Ayyam Gallery, who shares the impetus behind establishing The Samawi Collection, and Mouna Atassi, who speaks about the birth of The Atassi Foundation, from its origins as a gallery in Homs, to its crucial pivot to non-profit entity during theent rec war, and its mandate to safeguard Syrian heritage. “The importance of this collection is not predicated by the number of artworks, but rather by my belief in its historical importance, its association with the political and geographical history of Syria and the history of people and their lives,” she says. Her daughter, Shireen Atassi, Director of the Foundation, also contributes to this issue with her personal essay on becoming the custodian of the collection and what the Atassi Foundation and its collection means to her on a personal level, as a daughter and as a Syrian.
In the world of galleries, Yasmin Atassi, Director of Green Art Gallery, shares insights into how galleries work with artists – from initial studio visits to gallery programming. Elsewhere, Alma Salem’s essay explores the challenges faced by Syrian artists as they are caught between the upside of foreign institutional support and the doors this can open internationally, and the dangers of the way in which it can sometimes ultimately serve only to reinforce preconceived stereotypical notions of what Syrian art should be.
There is no doubt that Syrian art, more than ever before, needs a space in which fruitful discourse can take place and its rich history and current issues can be examined in depth and shared with the world. It is for this reason that we are pausing the Art Writing Prize as well as rethinking the format of The Journal moving forward. This will be the last issue in its current format, but exciting things are coming – stay tuned.