The Shadow Witness

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Youssef Abdelke never drew still lifes (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Pierre Abisaab

Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Youssef Abdelke never drew still lifes. This was contrived by academics and critics. He portrayed the dormant volcano, ever since his famous charcoals became impressed in our imagination.

Watermelons, flowers, and shoes; the sheep's head, and the knife planted in the ground next to the dead bird; the fist clenched in struggle; and the severed head with the words of Sanaa Moussa's song painting a cloud: “Ya Najmat-ul-Sobh Fawqa al-Sham Allayti,” or "The Morning Hanging High Over Damascus."

All of those were facets of an agonizing gaze into the future, in black and white. They were the totems of repressed anger in the psyche of a people on the road to Golgotha.

It was the cry sermonized by the artist and his companions decades before it exploded on the streets in Syria, then drowned by backwardness in a swamp of blood.

It was the turning point in the Syrian artist's experience, which brought back intuition into the theater of history, decades after his asylum in Paris.

He let people break into his paintings to tell their own story of their heroic tragedy. He brought back the words of the martyr's mother, of a martyr in Daraa, of St. John Chrysostom entombed in al-Hassan Mosque in al-Midan.

Youssef Abdelke is an artist of epics. He is the shadow witness celebrated by Beirut in Galerie Tanit starting today. It is his only link to realism, which he transcends to the surreal and yearns in his subconscious to masters who immortalized the moments of tragedy in the history of humanity.

The bitter Syrian moment encompasses the cubism of the Spanish Civil War as much as it does the romanticism of Paris between the revolution and the Commune.

Last summer, Abdelke encountered prison once again, but he did not play the hero. He returned to the shadows to count the missed chances, to observe the dance of death, and to listen to the heartbeat of his people who deserve their freedom.

Pierre Abisaab is Vice-Editor of Al-Akhbar. Follow Pierre Abisaab on Twitter.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


The Shadow Witness ---- What a hypocrite your are Mr.Abisaab. You can praise the work of Youssef Abdelke writing in your obtuse language, perhaps badly-translated from flowery Arabic, while you and your newspaper support the regime who incarcerated him. Your paycheck is provided by the killers in Damascus and their backers in Iran through their stooges in Lebanon. You seem to dismiss the revolt against Assad saying "It was the cry sermonized by the artist and his companions decades before it exploded on the streets in Syria, then drowned by backwardness in a swamp of blood." The backwardness in Syria is epitomized by the brutal barrel bombs the government planes drop on civilians, the men, women and children they have tortured, raped and let die of starvation. The blood is on your hands too Mr. Abisaab.

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