SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

“Beirut Has a Special Magic”: An interview with Syrian artist Gylan Safadi

Source SKeyes
Sunday , 02 December 2012


“I could not paint in colors anymore,” says artist Gylan Safadi about his current exhibition at ARTLAB gallery in Gemmayzeh. The exhibition, entitled “Ashes”, was an attempt by Safadi to salvage memories of faces, friends, dreams, and experiences amidst the destruction of war in Syria.

Safadi was born in Soueida, Syria in 1977. A graduate of Damascus University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, he lived and worked in Syria until coming to Beirut a month ago.

 Damscus was a good place to work as an artist before the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, says Safadi. Now, he says, “the city has changed. Everything is broken.”

“The war, the violence, the revolution, makes you feel what’s inside of you,” he says, “the pain makes you draw more real.” The works in “Ashes” are Safadi’s way of artistically depicting what he experienced in Syria. “I want to show how Syrians are sad in a real way; not like in the newspapers,” Safadi says. “The artist is like a messenger,” he adds.

Safadi’s work is normally characterized by strong colors, but the paintings and drawings on display in “Ashes” are done in black and white. 

The absence of color in the exhibition is representative of the effect of violence on memories. “All that surrounds me is colorless,” Safadi says, “only scorched memories come to me and I try to gather their shreds on my canvas before they are blown away.”

“I am coming from the city of death,” says Safadi. “Beirut, here,” he says pointing the ground below his feet “is the city of life.”


Beirut: the city of life

For Safadi, Beirut is an open city. “Beirut has many faces,” he says. The style in the city is collected from European and Arabic influences whereas Damascus is an Oriental city, he says.

“Beirut makes your mind open to making art,” Safadi says. The strong artistic community here has made it easy for Safadi to transition to living in Beirut, and he now wants to stay past the end of his exhibition. Since coming to the city he has been absorbing inspiration that will come out later in his art, he says.

There is something about the city that is familiar and comfortable for him, even though he has only been in Beirut for a month.  “When I see the streets, I feel nostalgia,” Safadi says, “I feel I belong in this place.”

“Beirut has something so magical,” Safadi says, “I think it’s a city of art; like Paris in Europe.” Since coming to Lebanon, says Safadi, the colors have returned to his work.    

But Safadi is concerned about political instability threatening the artistic environment in Beirut. “All the Middle East is like a bomb now,” he says, “Right now is such a hard time, but after… I think something new is coming.”

Safadi came to Beirut to make his work live, he says, because in Damascus it couldn’t escape death.  If Beirut ceased to be a city of life “I would lose my shelter… We would lose a shelter for all artists,” he says.


Safadi’s exhibition “Ashes” can been seen at ARTLAB through Saturday, December 1. 

Eric Reidy is a project assistant at the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural freedom researching and writing about the cultural scene in Beirut. This article is part of a weekly interview series with artists living, working, and creating in Beirut.


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