Booming Syrian art scene

June 2009 -

Syria has always had a lively visual arts scene. Appreciated by regional Arab collectors it failed in turn to attract the attention of the West, where Syrian art was seen as a decorative mix between traditional Islamic themes and dated Western influences. Over the past two years, however, Syrian artists and galleries have rejoined the Middle-Eastern avant-garde, which is slowly but surely establishing itself internationally.


Art House Gallery Damascus

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A visit to Damascus confirms that an artistic boom is taking place. The economic liberalization policies followed by the current government have allowed the emergence of a private art sector. Galleries, art bars and ateliers are mushrooming throughout the old and new city.

The conjuncture is favourable: throughout the region a new class is emerging of young and cosmopolitan Arabs who are fascinated by the questions of identity and culture that artists pose. They speculate on the budding regional art market, now catered to by international auction houses such as Christie's in Dubai. Large scale spending of Gulf countries on public art projects (museums, art fairs and international exhibitions) creates yet more demand.

Western interest in Syrian arts is still embryonic, but this is where the greatest growth potential lies. It is coming into reach thanks to dynamic galleries nurturing their artists and strategically launching them on the international scene, such as the Ayyam Gallery. By participating in many international fairs and publishing catalogues this gallery is probably doing more for Syrian arts than the state.

One could, from a European perspective, deplore the Syrian state’s lack of interest in contemporary art. This is most manifest in the lack of support (as in education or small-scale funding) for new art forms. Given current and past track records in the region, however, it is probably preferable that the Syrian government doesn’t interfere directly in the art world, but draws predictable ‘red lines’ of censorship within which the current developments can take place.