The Syrian identity in plastic art ... A national project and part of the cultural development of society

The dialectic of cultural identity is one of the contemporary problems in every society and addressing this issue in Syria is not new. Since the fifties of the last century, critics, thinkers and intellectuals have tackled it to define its features, connotations and standards.

Today, the confusion is based on questions about the factors of our cultural identity and the role of our heritage and its components in giving it its general characteristics, as well as the extent of our acceptance and integration into world culture. A group of plastic artists tried to answer these questions in an attempt to define the features of the Syrian identity through the ancient Syrian plastic art that dates back thousands of years.

Plastic artist Aktham Abdel Hamid stressed that the most important conditions for forming of the arts' creative identity are, the unified environment and geography of the place, in addition to the cultural heritage of society under one title, "the personal identity of peoples" which stores in our memory the temporal and spatial cultural process.

According to him, the Arab region was subject to  political, cultural and social instability because of the invasions and occupations to its land , which caused its cultural identity to fluctuate and be vague. This affected the true picture of the comprehensive Syrian identity, which in turn identified with the political ideas and ideologies prevailing in the region and affected its general character.

Artist Edward Shahda talked about the phenomenon of devoting general slogans instead of consecrating the Syrian cultural identity. He indicated that Syria, due to its geographical location, is a historical pathway for all civilizations, which gives it a diverse cultural identity unlike the Egyptian Pharaonic civilization, highlighting, at the same time, the Palmyrene art that is still alive in Syrian society until now.

Artist Shahda, who has a deep experience in the art of integrating icons with Islamic miniatures, considers that the identity in plastic art is of an individual nature and includes the experiences of artists that reflect the plastic style of work that belongs to its production stage.

As for the experiences of young people today, they are, in his opinion, influenced by their openness and interaction with the tools of the age and with global issues, which gives them a different experience from the pioneers and veterans, as it adds more diversity to the Syrian plastic scene.

Plastic artist, Dr. Saed Salloum shows a different point of view, as he refutes the term "identity" because he finds that it is not appropriate to run into an academic scientific research indicating that he did not find a clear definition in the language dictionaries for this term. Rather, he found in the Arabic Encyclopedia in the section of logic something called the law of identity, which means that each matter has its own personality that it maintains despite all the changes it undergoes.

The plastic artist Abd Al-Hadi al-Shamaa talked about the relationship of Syrian plastic art with international artistic currents and their impact on its own identity.

He called for taking into account the time during which the artwork was executed, the artist's motives for carrying out this work and its relationship to the prevailing circumstances and the circulating intellectual currents, as well as its contact with modernity with its implications, especially the liberalism that the West seeks to market through several platforms, including art.

Plastic artist and critic Aksam Tallaa' believed that the artistic identity exists and  dates back to thousands of years and the masterpieces of art left to us by our ancestors confirm this, but at the same time he indicated that we need to generate the components of this identity in proportion to the current time.

Artist Essam Darwish, director of the Ishtar Gallery, found that there are elements that control the issue of art work, including promotion, turnout, and influence on the viewer, indicating that our galleries do not depend on exhibitions because they are financially losing, but rather that the acquisition and sale of art works constitute the basis for their continued work.

Darwish called on artists to move away in their artwork from the authority of the possessor, whether it is an entity or an individual, to produce a new, creative art.

Zawaya Gallery Director Rola Suleiman stressed the necessity of investing in culture and the importance of supporting young experiences.

Youth has a fundamental role in strengthening the Syrian plastic identity, but this requires them, according to the director of the Qazah Gallery,  plastic artist Samer Qazah, to create a place for themselves in the artistic arena so that people acquire their work and influence their surroundings. He pointed at the same time to the need for owners of private art galleries to have an artistic passion and not to view artistic creativity as a source of profit only.

The identity of Syrian plastic art, according to the consensus of plastic artists, is a national project and the success of this project requires concerted efforts of public and private institutions and cultural associations to set the scientific standards and foundations to ensure the progression of this project to achieve sustainable cultural development in society.

Amal Farhat