Ayyam Gallery hosts Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s solo exhibition - GulfToday

Ayyam Gallery hosts Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s solo exhibition

Jagged lines of one of the works.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Ayyam Gallery is presenting Diary, a solo exhibition (Jan. 8 – Feb. 20) featuring Syrian artist Tammam Azzam’s recent body of work. The artist is known for his explorations of the destruction and reconstruction of an image or space and presents his oeuvre in full force here.

Azzam, now resident in Germany, depicts ominous cityscapes – broken roads, abandoned buildings, hostile skies – representative of a dystopia that lurks like a beast just below the neon lights of contemporary life. With a metallic quality, he shows the blunt lustre of industrial environments. It could be anyplace: Damascus or Berlin could own the strange beauty of these scenes.

Stark palettes and jagged lines are distinguishing marks of the compositions. Azzam makes the horizon expand to humongous scales while urban vistas are beaten into small dimensions. In one untitled 2021 painting, the sky is a turquoise sea-blue and the terrain references quite possibly the lava fields of Sweida in southwest Syria, where the artist hails from. The sky’s colour being a familiar sight in Berlin, it connects different places in one unhappy moment.

The sketches of empty roads that travel beyond the field of vision are like the exposed veins of marble. They disappear into the distant skyline, belting out severe rhythms.

“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water”. - T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland. 

There is a quiver full of symbols. For example, the 2023 collage of copper-toned tectonic plates could equally be the earth’s crust or an icy lake shimmering in the sun. Just above the painting’s centre, the ground becomes a vertical, cracked wall.

The shift in perspective impacts meanings as well as the ways how one understands the world and time. Azzam is not shy of showing things as he sees them. He adopts a point of view that never belongs to the sides, but is always frontal.

Empty of living beings and yet eerily familiar, his pictures are examples of stillness and presence — situated after an event has already happened or just before an imminent occurrence. In four 2022 studies on paper, he zooms in on a particular building in a Berlin neighbourhood. It is flush with a rectangular grid of windows, sometimes left blank and empty, at other times filled and fused.

2018 marked a significant turning point for him, when he investigated paper collages. The papers he uses, varying from 30 to 110 grams, are layered, glued and detailed in colour. The result is broken-up facades of collapsed cityscapes. The painted paper collages are symbolic of the delicate balance between fragility and creation, between a weathered frontage and fluid abstractions of formation.

Quite a number of his earlier works have been seen to index the war-torn country he left behind in 2016. But Azzam does not rest in his “discomfort zone”: he sees his experiences being replicated elsewhere. His visual narrative is an arc that deals with the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The exhibition is curated by Maya Samawi, Ayyam Gallery Director.

 The sky bears down on the land in this composition.

Born in Damascus, Syria, in 1980, Azzam received his art training from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Damascus, with a concentration in oil painting. Alongside a successful career as a painter in Syria, he was a prolific graphic designer - an experience that would inform his digital media work after relocating to Dubai with the start of the conflict in his country.

The initial phase of his work was distinguished by a hybrid form of semi-abstract painting with applications of various unconventional materials such as rope, clothespins, and other found objects. The early experiments were inspired by his changing perceptions of urban environments.

Following the start of the uprising in Syria, Azzam turned to digital media and graphic art to create visual composites of the conflict. It resonated with international viewers. The widely distributed works also follow his interest in street art as powerful and direct forms of protest, difficult to suppress.

In early 2013, Azzam made worldwide headlines when his Freedom Graffiti print went viral on social media. He then returned to painting with Storeys, a series of monumental works on canvas that communicate the magnitude of devastation experienced across his native country through expressionist compositions of destroyed cityscapes.

Chronicling the current state of his homeland, Azzam frequently delves into a cathartic exercise of reconstruction, storey by storey. Alongside the new paintings, he has produced a significant body of giclee prints and installations that depict the facets of cities through similar themes.

He has exhibited widely, including in international exhibitions such as the FUU-Street Art Festival, Sarajevo (2015); Vancouver Biennale, where he was in residence (2014); FotoFest Biennial, Houston (2014) and Dak’Art: Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dakar (2014). In 2016, he received an artist fellowship at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study in Delmonhost.

Founded in 2006, Ayyam Gallery is a leading arts organisation that manages the careers of diverse established and emerging artists. With a blue-chip art space in Dubai, a series of collaborative projects in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia, a multinational non-profit arts programme, multilingual publishing division and a custodianship programme that manages the estates of pioneering artists, Ayyam Gallery also makes efforts to document underrepresented facets of global art history.


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