Love is the most common thing in the Syrian artist Baseem Rayyes's projects; and the last one was his try to document the Syrian Revolution through art.
When someone asked him in a letter, "What happened with The Syrian Mural?" He answered, "It was hit by a shell like every other Syrian wall, and I'm mending it now." This is how the Syrian artist Baseem Rayyes summarizes his last artistic project. It was decided to be achieved by 14 paintings, each one exemplifies a Syrian city in the revolution, and to be presented in one of the artistic galleries in Dubai or al-Sharja, where Rayyes lives. Back then, Baseem emptied his house of furniture and gathered it in one room, so that the walls of the house were dressed with a wooden gown which became the painting holder, and the project began, but the passing days and the bleeding blood occupied the whole time. After the T.V screen became a frustrating shelter, the artist preferred to suspend his work on the project.
A Painting for Every Martyr
(The Syrian Mural) was not his first project during the Syrian Revolution. It was preceded by another project called (A Painting for Every Martyr) which exemplified all who were killed in the first stage of the uprising which started on 15th of March, 2011. He started with Mahmoud al-Jawabra who was killed in Daraa, but, as was the case with the Mural, also in (A Painting for Every Martyr), the blood flood was much more than any painting could contain. But Baseem does not let frustration sneak into him; always lively and active, he shifts from the sketch and the painting to the pen and the computer screen, and even sometimes behind the camera; and whether the reviews were positive or negative, they push him for more production.
A Painting on Every Wall
In 2011, he launches an outstanding initiative entitled (A Painting on Every Wall). It was based on a simple and deep idea at the same time; it was love. He declared, via his Facebook profile page, that he is going to devote an entire month to receive requests from whom wish to get one of his paintings. What was the motive? "Love, only." Baseem replied. Some did not believe that_ I was one of them. As requests rained upon him from people who have not dreamed of owning a painting, others attacked the idea, but he did not care and continued his idea lovingly. At that time, he considered what he does as a love letter to the whole world. He opened his chest to the world and shouted, "O World, I love you with all your details!" Back then, he wanted to participate in giving extra oxygen, so he devoted his full time to the painting and started drawing at the first moment of his declaration. Any visitor to his Facebook profile page who wishes to get a painting, can get one by just sending an email with a request. Not just that; also, the painting will be sent to the chosen address attached with your request. Of course, many did not believe that until they saw the painting hanged on their walls, while some others are still wondering whether this has really happened.
Test for Giving
"Was the world prepared for an idea which contains such a great love?", you ask him. "I did not try confirmation back then; I predicted friends' response, but, practically, there was more than one trend. In the following months, I got reactions through letters." "Who attacked you, and why?" "Some artists attacked me because the sketch is their most important property, but I abandoned it believing that this is a real test, because human's value is through giving away, and not by just giving." The reactions, humanly speaking, were tempting that this experience can be permanent, but support is missing, because this project depended on the artist's personal capital and the logistic support of some friends, but extending the idea needed an institutional effort and full time work for a long time. The working effort was divided between painting and photographing in order to document each painting and give it a certain number in order to be archived and for a programmed sending to its owner and communication with friends. Back then, he could finish about 10 paintings every day. Although one part of the project was to present the paintings in one place, but it was difficult to be achieved, not to mention that a documentation project which aimed to follow the paintings' trip to the walls of their owners has not been finished.
In one of the replies which he received, the sender said, "I haven't received a gift before in my whole life, so how about a painting?! I'll hang your painting on any of my room's walls because it has no windows." Rayyes pauses in silence and takes a deep breath from his cigarette after he tells you that story. After the Syrian uprising, Baseem's paintings succeeded in gathering both allies and oppositionists on the same table, while the gap today becomes deeper and deeper. The paintings reached Palestine, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, USA, Germany, Egypt, Canada, United Arab Emirates and many other countries which did not occur to Baseem's mind when he answered, because more than 400 paintings left his workshop during that year. It was planned for the project to be finished in two months but Arab Spring extended it until July 201, and, till this moment, there are some paintings which wait to be sent from his house/workshop. The most significant development was that each painting was entitled by its owner's name and occupied a place in Baseem's website www.rayyesart.com.
After 15 days from the beginning of that project, the Arab Spring started. Someone said to him, "If the project will predict a future of an Arab Spring, I wish that you give more initiatives!" Baseem laughs when he remembers this incident. But this spring did not give a room for this project to get the proper media coverage. Baseem does not feel sorry about that considering that the Arab Spring was reflected in his paintings which he describes by saying, "The line was liberated in them, the characters went farther because something inside them was changed; what happened was entirely beyond expectations as a wave which strikes all beaches."
Baseem Rayyes considers the project of (A Painting on Every Wall) a turning point on the idea's level. Since then, the work on artistic projects started instead of focusing on the painting as just an isolated project, but he clarifies that, "You cannot underestimate the painting because it is a part of a larger project; Fateh al-Mudarres said once, "The artist draws an only painting in his whole life", so consequently, when you draw and write, you draw and write your own self with all what you have of values, ideas and experiences. And when the painting becomes a part of a larger project, it becomes as if it were put on a ship and seeks a certain direction." But he complains about the lack of support for these artistic projects, and mentions that he has many of these projects which cannot be achieved due to the lack of support; one of them has something related to the time, in which he refers to importance of time and speaks about the mechanizing the human, "We use machines in order to stay alive, but what happens is quite the opposite; in this project, I am going to turn into one of my paintings' characters for 3 months to start this experience, but I just need not more than a place, electricity and some materials, and this project could develop to be a documentary film."
Baseem Rayyes did not study art at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus University although he passed the preparation exam scoring the 16th grade out of 4000 applicants because of financial reasons. He goes back with his memories to the year of 1988 and the financial situation back then, but he refuses to put the whole burden on the general financial breakdown, and considers that he preferred not to put extra financial burden on his family, and chose to study Agricultural Engineering of which he graduated years later.
- He was born in the Damascene ancient quarter, "Bab Touma", in 1/1/1970.
- The death of the father who was also an artist, 1976.
- He passed the preparation exam of the Faculty of Fine Arts, 1988.
- The first trip to Europe (Ireland), and then to Emirates, 2002.
- Al-Sharja Arab Creativity Prize (Short Story), 2009.
- (Boundaries of the Grey), Short Film, 2009.
- (A Wall Grows Near Me) exhibition, in Vendenia Gallery, Dubai, 2011.
Aara Magazine, Dubai Media Foundation, No. 72
Translated by: Yazan el-Haj