Memories of exile pervade Fathallah Zamroud’s paintings. The Lebanese artist, whose latest exhibit “Distant Remains” opened at Beirut’s Ayyam Gallery on September 6, can trace his lineage back to Ottoman Turkey. His grandparents fled their ancestral land in Southern Turkey to Aleppo after the Armenian Genocide, and his own parents in turn had to leave Syria and head for Lebanon in 1964, to escape that country’s instability.
Zamroud’s most recent body of work, created between 2015 and 2017, delves both into his family’s past – they were forced to run, to leave everything behind – and the current Syrian war. With 10 million Syrians now labeled as refugees, the Syrian war is the greatest humanitarian disaster since World War II. The plight of these refugees, and that of his own family, have melded together on Zamroud’s canvas, as the artist sought to capture the Middle East’s seemingly endless wars and the constant pain of exile.
With vivid brushstrokes and rich colors, the artist drew temporary dwellings, much like the ones in which half of all Syrians now live, and abandoned sites overtaken by nature, perhaps pointing to the temporality of human structures and the inevitable triumph of nature over man. Yet at the same time, Zamroud’s paintings carry a sense of hope: a stretch of dilapidated buildings is encroached upon by a roaring sea of color, makeshift homes come back to life as a tempestuous background of drifting clouds offers signs of continuing life.
“This is an evolution of my work,” says the 49-year-old artist. “I started with refugee camps for my first show, ‘Material Remains,’ in 2014. My new paintings aren’t just about camps. There is a hint of refugee tents, but the emphasis is now on war, particularly postwar trauma, urban desolation and devastated areas.”
Of the nine paintings now displayed at Ayyam, none have titles. “I don’t want to influence the viewer,” Zamroud says. “I want him or her to freely use their imagination when looking at my work.” To convey his message, the artist uses specific colors, like dark blue to express intensity and drama. “But I always give a hint of light through warm colors, like orange and yellow.”
And herein lies the message in Zamroud’s work: amid the misery, the destruction and the devastation, there are always signs of rebirth, of happiness and ultimately of peace.
Prior to “Distant Remains,” Zamroud exhibited a large work at this year’s Sharjah Biennial. He’s now working on his next show, scheduled to take place in 2018 during Art Dubai at Ayyam Gallery’s Dubai outpost. “The third show will have a hint of remains, but nature will reign supreme,” he says. “The focus will be on dramatic nature, trees, silent forests. Like a resurrection, a return to hope.”
Fathallah Zamroud’s “Distant Remains” is on view until October 28 at Ayyam Gallery in Downtown Beirut.