The Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture and ArtScoops organize an auction


Work of the Syrian artist Mamdouh Kashlan.

Muhammad Yusuf, Feature Writer

Founded in 2016, the Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture is a non-profit initiative that specifically aims to preserve and promote modern and contemporary art and archives of Syria and to advance the Syrian art scene through strengthening capacities.

Generally speaking, it also strives to foster critical thinking and research through the production of knowledge and to create a bridge between the past and the future of artistic production. The Foundation is organizing an online auction of works of art by Masters: Modern and Contemporary Art, in collaboration with ArtScoops (from December 1 to 6). ArtScoops is a collector’s marketplace that features contemporary MENA art and artist and gallery items, auctions and private sales, and offers live auction and advisory services. .

Shireen Atassi, Director of the Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture, presents Gulf Today. What are the common artistic characteristics of the Masters featured in the auction? Some of the artists in this auction are considered the fathers of the artistic movement in Syria in the 20th century. Some names are recognized regionally and globally, such as Fateh Moudarres and Mahmoud Hammad; others are not as widely known. We try to present the history of Syrian art, to help weave its many components so that the public can think about it.

art1-dec5 A work by Syrian artist Abdullah Murad.

We need to recognize the role these Masters have had on future generations. Ultimately, we have to understand our past to appreciate our present. How have they impacted emerging artists? Many of these Masters are graduates of art schools in Egypt, France and Italy. They returned home to become lecturers and professors at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Damascus, founded in 1960. Examples include Hammad, Chaura, and Moudarres, all of whom taught at the faculty. Others, like Michel Kurche, have opened their workshops for art lessons. Their impact on their students has been remarkable, both in terms of technique, philosophy and style.

These masters were the key to the national and Arab discourse on art at a time when the Arab world was going through historic moments that still shape us as a nation today. Have the Masters ever been mentors for young artists? Yes, absolutely. These artists were not only teaching in the Faculty of Fine Arts, but they created artistic associations and sparked much of the discourse that was going on at the time, not only in Syria, but also with their regional peers.

We must remember the social and political context of the time. At the time, Arab art sought its own identity away from Western standards. This applies to Syrian, Iraqi and other Arab artists, all of whom were trying to figure out who they really were as Arab artists. Are the works of the Masters appreciated for their age or for their freshness? The two? Any work of art is assessed on the basis of its historical value as well as its artistic value.

The art market is special and the Syrian art market in particular is even more so! In this case, we are also driven by the appetite of collectors and their appreciation of Syrian modernism in particular. The paucity of historical price data for some of these artists made the valuation quite complicated. What were the artistic influences on the Masters? I would say it varies not only by artist but also over time. Artists like Michel Kurche studied in France at the turn of the 20th century and were strongly influenced by Impressionism.

Shireen-Atassi Shireen Atassi, Director of the Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture.

Many artists, in the first half of the century, documented local scenes, landscapes and people. However, later, and in the middle of the century, they became more concerned with their identity and the Arab struggles. For example, the beautiful oriental women of Nazir Nabaa (lot 29) are a representation of Arab identity. Another example is the Lifetime Achievement of Burhan Karkutli who was politically engaged in the Palestinian struggle.

The following generations, like Safwan Dahoul, drew more inspiration from their inner world. How did the masters interact with their Western contemporaries? Before the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University opened, artists studied in Europe and Egypt – so there was quite a bit of interaction with non-Syrian artists. However, since the early sixties and for various political and social reasons, Syrian artists were quite isolated from Western art, except when they traveled.

In the year 2000, the internet spread widely in Syria – and this gave artists a window to follow art from around the world. How does the Syrian vision of the Atassi Foundation align with the broader Arab / world artistic vision? I’m not sure we need to align with a larger global vision. We must recognize the unique nature of the Syrian art scene and its particular challenges. The artistic ecosystem of Syrian art is totally distorted, and although we cannot fill all the gaps on our own, we try to focus on the immediate needs.

For example, when we felt the archives were getting lost and there was little documentation on Syrian art, we launched MASA (Modern Art Syria Archive) which will go live in February 2022. When we identified the distance between our artists (whether in the diaspora or in Syria) and their regional audiences, we have decided to organize auctions to give Syrian artists the opportunity to show their works. Guess what I’m saying is yes, there are universal artistic priorities: but as a foundation we need to align with the issues of our stakeholders, and our reality right now is somewhat unique. .

How did Syrian art behave during the “Wardemia” and the Pandemic? Syrian art has undergone over the past ten years transformations too early to be evaluated, but important to identify. We must remember the large proportion of artists in the diaspora, the isolation of those who remain in Syria and the difficulties in coming to terms with the scenes of death and destruction. It was difficult; but also inspiring as the artists resisted, persisted and continued to develop. I am fortunate to work with such amazing people who give us hope for a better future.


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