How do you capture the spirit of a revolution? Syrian photographer Jaber Alazmeh has attempted to share what he sees to be the true essence of the Syrian uprising in a series of 16 haunting images titled “Jirah” (Wounds).
Rather than exhibit his work in a conventional gallery, the artist has uploaded it to his Behance, Flickr and Facebook pages. This does not seem inappropriate given that the Internet has played such a prominent role in conveying events in Syria over the past year.
“My contribution would lose its meaning if I confined it to the rooms of a traditional gallery,” Alazmeh said in an email exchange with The Daily Star. “I hope that what I have produced will have value primarily in the street ... I think that Internet sites and Facebook are the most influential and effective place to display this work currently.”
The photographs in “Jirah” are all two-tone but, rather than traditional black-and-white photography, Alazmeh has used black silhouettes against a deep, blood-red background. These are, as he puts it, “the colors of love, blood and death.”
The works were motivated by “pain, anger, believe, hope, friends and homeland,” the artist says. Rather than using documentary-style footage, the sort of mobile-phone generated images that dominate the audio-visual coverage of events in Syria over the past year, Alazmeh sets out to depict the escalating violence and bloodshed in his country metaphorically, with digitally manipulated fine-art photographs.
“I am working on another collection which combines artistic and documentary content, but I haven’t started publishing them yet,” Alazmeh said. “I am not a photojournalist and unfortunately I do not have the incredible courage shown by some people, who carry their cameras or mobile phones to take photographs in the street, bringing themselves face-to-face with arrest or death.”
“Tsunami” shows a battle tank tilting alarmingly forward, as if in the process of being flipped over. Above it, and dominating the image, a huge undulating wave of water hangs, suspended in mid-air, creating the impression that the weapon is being overwhelmed by the wall of water alluded to in the title.
“The idea came from one of the most beautiful moments, or scenes, in the demonstrations,” Alazmeh recalled. “They call it the tsunami of freedom and it is a human tsunami formed by the demonstrators, who move and chant together like a huge wave. A tsunami of free, unarmed people who can sink the tanks and other forms of oppression and tyranny.”
In Alazmeh’s “The Creation of Freedom,” the photographer presents his own gruesome take on “The Creation of Adam,” the famous fresco Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – depicting the index fingers of two men (Adam and god) extended toward one another, not quite touching.
In Alazmeh’s photo, the hands are positioned very much like those of God and Adam in Michelangelo’s work. But in Alazmeh’s photo, the hand on the left, where Adam’s hand ought to be, is dripping with what looks like blood.
Viewers can decide for themselves what each hand represents. If the hand on the left embodies the Syrian people what of the hand on the right? Freedom? The Syrian regime? God?
In an effort to explain this work, Alazmeh says an activist friend told him that each person would instinctively find his or her own way to play a part in the revolution. “In general various forms of revolutionary art are widely appreciated,” he said. “This artistic production is the bare minimum which is expected of our artists at this point.”
Alazmeh frequently employs a technique of layering several photographs in one image, creating something like a multiply exposed frame that shows a figure simultaneously captured in five positions or more.
Four of these images depict a central figure reaching out, almost dancing, his hands splayed apart as if in desire or supplication. When the subject’s gestures overlap in the center of the image, it creates a translucent yet ever-deeper shade.
His arms and hands, each position captured in a single layer, are pale, almost ghostly. This gives the figure a dreamlike appearance, creating an impression of a series of fleeting unrepeated movements, like watching the dance of a flame.
Several of Alazmeh’s photographs are accompanied by short texts and poems by another young Syrian, ‘Arwa Maqdud. He is “an extraordinary young man, like many young Syrians today,” says Alazmeh. “I agreed with ‘Arwa that he would write texts to accompany the work. These are our experiences. They are our attempt to capture the stories and situations and events of the revolution through ‘Arwa’s texts and my photographs.”
Jaber Alazmeh’s photograph series ”Jirah,” accompanied by texts from ‘Arwa Maqdud, are exhibited online on his Behance page at http://www.behance.net/gallery/Wounds-/3017673.