its launch in Damascus in 2010, the aim of the Visual Arts Festival Damascus has
been to create a platform for meetings and debates focusing on contemporary
visual practice in the Middle East and to encourage and facilitate exchange
between young artists in Syria and the neighbouring Arab countries as well as
their international peers.
When the Syrian uprising began in 2011, the
format of the festival changed and became nomadic: In 2012, it was hosted by the
International Film Festival Rotterdam, as part of the "Power Cut Middle East"
program, and in 2013 a program of exhibition, screenings, talks and workshops
will be hosted by DEPO in Istanbul. The program was selected on the basis of a
call for digital art works for artists from the Arab countries and Turkey.
Now, only a few days before the opening of the 2013 edition of the festival,
protests are taking place throughout Turkey. What started as a protest against
yet another "development" project in Istanbul that would deprive the city's
inhabitants of a favorite gathering place has developed into a wider movement
against governmental arrogance and a statement against the repression of civic
rights. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Orhan Pamuk compared Taksim
Square with an old chestnut tree that his own family successfully saved from
being cut down in the 1950s. The members of his family took turns in guarding
the tree and were able to preserve it. Now, the people of Istanbul are guarding
a square with its park, together with its memories of civic engagement and
Just as in the ongoing fights for freedom and civic rights in
the Arab world, many artists in Turkey are engaged in this movement. And it is
sure to have an important impact on the work of these artists.
In the Arab
countries, the ongoing upheavals and the questions accompanying them are visible
in the recent works of many artists. The search for new definitions of social
and geographical identities and roles, the need to create new notions of
belonging and a general turn towards centering the human experience within
artistic practice are all themes that are very present. Many of the works
selected for this year's festival address important social issues and many have
a distinctive activist character.
We would like to invite the audience to
explore the work of this young, engaged and exciting art scene and to
participate in the round tables and discussions proposed at DEPO during the two
days following the opening. The opening days will close with an experimental
The Visual Arts Festival Damascus would like to
thank our sponsors, Prince Claus Fund, the Danish Arts Council and Agial
Gallery, Beirut for their support and DEPO for hosting us for one month of
Bank & Delphine Leccas