Profile on Syrian Artist Tammam Azzam

One of the works in Azzam's show 'The Syrian Museum'

One of the works in Azzam’s show ‘The Syrian Museum’

The chances are that you haven’t heard of Tammam Azzam. Or if you have, your awareness of him doesn’t extend much further than beyond last Wednesday. Last week, the Syrian artist’s re-imaging of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ onto war torn Syrian architecture went viral. ‘Viral’ is a term that I’m reluctant to use, given the connotations it has in most of the internet literate world as relating more to videos of kittens riding on top of tortoises, for example, than any serious or worthwhile news.

However, Azzam in this instance is an exception. His Kiss work has been shared on line thousands of times since it appeared last week. Twitter oozed over it, the Guardian dedicated an article from the brilliant Jonathan Jones to it.

Yet, beyond the individual work, very little is known about the artist himself and how the Kiss fits in to his broader work. Lots of you who read my post on it here at Fawn Review contacted me to ask questions and when I got in touch with him, Azzam himself was kind enough to respond. Here I have attempted to put together the most cohesive and coherent catalogue of his works and motivations.

Azzam was born in Damascus in 1980 and is one of the young rising stars in Syrian art. He graduated from art school having specialised his training  in oil painting. Azzam currently lives in Dubai after leaving Syria for fear of being called up to the army. This awareness of the political as an issue that is very much real and imposing on his everyday life is reflected in his work. Politics are not represented as abstract or alien concepts but, as so often in politically unstable countries, as a force constantly breathing down Azzam’s neck and that of his art works.

You can take a virtual tour of Azzam’s December 2012 solo exhibition here…

Azzam first gathered notice last year with his response to the Arab Spring in the form of this grenade. Entitled ‘Syrian Spring’, the work puns on the spring detonation mechanism of the grenade device, whilst the floral element represents the more obvious and more positive elements of ‘spring’; organic, unstoppable, albeit undeniably fragile.

'Syrian Spring' by Tammam Azzam

‘Syrian Spring’ by Tammam Azzam

Some of his most striking images (and those which bare the hallmarks of his imaginative Kiss) are his series ‘Syrian Museum’ in which he imagines a collision of classical Western art and contemporary Syria. Images of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and Warhol’s images of Elvis are merged with the war torn streets of his home town.

Azzam's Mona Lisa as part of his 'Syrian Museum'

Azzam’s Mona Lisa as part of his ‘Syrian Museum’

Azzam's interpretation of Goya for his 'Syrian Museum'

Azzam’s interpretation of Goya for his ‘Syrian Museum’

Azzam's imagining of Warhol for his 'Syrian Museum'

Azzam’s imagining of Warhol for his ‘Syrian Museum’

The images of classic art and contemporary environment are a clash of context and culture. Azzam begs the question of both what was Syrian art’s role in the past (notably its hitherto mute role on the world stage) and at the same time in his highly skilled works he sets himself up as one of the forerunners in modern art. The reason why these images are perhaps not quite so desolate is that we see in Azzam a future which to a certain extent reconciles us somewhat to the grim past and even present he portrays.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Azzam and Middle Eastern art. What do you think Azzam is trying to show through pairing art history and modern Syria in these pictures? Comment below!

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