The British Museum London is currently exhibiting recent acquisitions by mostly Syrian artists following the 2011 uprisings that led to a sustained Civil War.

Works on display are in a variety of media put predominantly works on paper that includes: posters, artist’s books, prints, drawings and photographs, the medium used perhaps pertinent to an immediacy of distribution and indeed to counteract mass media dissemination of the ongoing conflict, and conflicting reports.

Alshaab alsori aref Tareekh (The Syrian People Know Their Way), an anonymous collective of Syrian artists are engaging in their use of text and images transferred to poster format as a means to circulate information digitally, via social media for activists to download and circulate. The collective operates through a Facebook page and blog, as a discursive platform to contemplate the impact of the Arab Spring on the region, and indeed the current situation of conflict in Syria. The group continues to promote social change and peaceful resistance, by publishing articles that relate to the issues of freedom, civil society, women rights, the occupied Golan Heights, Palestinian and Kurdish issues etc. 68 posters that are on display and were created between 2011-2014.

Jaber Al Azmeh’s striking and poignant Resurrection series began at the beginning of the Syrian uprisings when he photographed a network of Syrian journalists, poets, artists and actors in both public and private space in his homeland and abroad. In a subversive act to counteract official narratives, participants were asked to hold a copy of the official government newspaper, al-Ba’ath (meaning resurrection), upside down and write on it. The newspaper becomes a platform for individual opinions as opposed to mass media informed narrative.

Youssef Abdelke, Ziad Dalloul and Rachid Koraïchi all of whose works are on display represent an older generation of Syrian artists dealing with divergent themes that draw on a sense of entrapment brought on by the conflict, whilst a younger generation including Fadi Yazigi, Azza Abo Rabieh and Hamid Sulaiman all express the ways in which the people of Syria are caught up in warfare by black and white bodily renderings.

Other MENA artists included in the exhibition are Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi for which the book is his central expressive form, and Swedish-Iraqi artist, Amar Dawood whose, Egyptian artist, Heba Y. Amin photography alludes to the looting of antiquities from ancient sites, whilst Iranian artist, Hengameh Golestan’s photographs capture a demonstration by women during the 1979 revolution protesting against wearing the chador.

Overall, Living histories: Recent acquisitions of works on paper by contemporary Arab artists is a richly embodied representation of the current state of affairs in the Middle East. A way to tell of suffering for and by people who are most affected by the conflict, the mass migration that has occurred and the displacement from homelands, all with the hopes that a new dawn is around the corner.

Living histories: Recent acquisitions of works on paper by contemporary Arab artists is currently on view through 22 October 2017 in Room 34 at The British Museum in London. The acquisitions are made possible by the patrons’ group (CaMMEA), the Art Fund and a number of generous donations.

by Jareh Das.