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Selam, Omar and Alsadon

There has been some civil unrest in Syria which has lead us to leave the country earlier than expected, though we thankfully managed to make it to Aleppo and see all the major sites on route as intended. I have to admit that I loved Syria to pieces and Damascus is now one of my favourite cities in the world (at least of the places I have seen so far!). Unfortunately due to the violence we only had one full day in the capital. After visiting the Umayyad mosque we wandered through the old town towards the citadel, where by sheer coincidence we found a small art gallery up a narrow flight of stairs on the far side of the canal. Our day took an unexpected turn from there when the resident artist, Salam Omar, more or less adopted us for the next few hours.

Omar is an Iraqi-born fine artist whose work is primarily abstract collage and sculpture. His latest work is brightly coloured and features the poetry of Omar el Khayyam.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d –
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”
Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help – for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

Salam Omar’s new pieces differ greatly from the dark gritty style he previously employed and are hopefully reflective of changes in his personal life. Though he looks a little glum in the photograph on his website, Omar is actually a very warm person who offered us real Syrian hospitality (more tea and coffee than we could drink, and great conversation considered English isn’t his first language)! Omar walked our small group (Orla, Jason, Missy, Emma and myself) to one of his favourite restaurants, Green Leaves, which specialises in Syrian cuisine and has been recently featured in the New York Times.

While waiting for a table, Omar’s friend and fellow immigrant sculpture artist, Nawal Alsadon, stopped on the footpath for a chat and promptly invited us to her studio a few hundred metres down the cobblestone alley. Her attic apartment-studio had me spellbound; a crumbling ceiling that acted as a makeshift skylight, doors with paint peeling to reveal the red wood beneath, white doves running around the living room floor, walls and walls of art from all periods of her life, vintage photos of film stars and directors, jewelery hanging from mirror frames and luxurious fabrics draped over furniture.  I could not have imagined a more creative space if I tried. I was gobsmacked that such a bright and lovely place existed up a dark sandstone staircase; it was like something out of a movie.

Nawal Alsadon
Salam Omar

With tens of thousands now protesting in the streets of Damascus, we hope that both Omar and Nawal are safe and well. I feel very privileged to have met such successful artists and to have had such an authentic experience in Syria. Having visited Krak des Chevaliers and Aleppo, we have now crossed the Turkish border and are camping in Goreme, Cappadocia. This fairytale town is famous for its chimney-like rock formations which were carved out by early inhabitants of the area to make shops, churches and houses. The locals also built underground cities up to twenty-two storeys deep; my backpack is now covered in white powder from crawling through all the low tunnels. Quite claustrophobic, but really interesting nonetheless. It was rather windy on top of the cliffs so the sketches are quick – hopefully they give you some idea of how marvelous these houses really are.

Due to an ongoing court case between Blogger and the Turkish Government, I can’t actually view my own post! Apologies if there are any errors or you can’t view the images; I will double check the post once I reach Greece.



One thought on “Selam, Omar and Alsadon

  1. A great summary of an exquisite afternoon Holly, I'm glad we were all able to share it.

    Posted by Jason | April 27, 2011, 10:39 pm

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