2023/02/16

Further Thinking of Syrie

In early- or mid-February 2020, I hunkered down to reacquaint myself with the long-on-hold Syrie project. I imagined it would be a great 2020 project. I spent a week hunting down my notes, posts, and relics connected to the project; read; relearned; sorted loose ends to keep/discard; re-label relevant posts; and finally started a draft post.

At first it was a good distraction from the yet-named plague, too, which I didn't think would be a big deal in New Zealand, like the others in recent times, but with a lockdown imminent in Italy and the constant reminder diabetics were in increased danger, my attention moved away from the project.
 
My life-long interest in the plight of the Palestinians has remained, but news, and especially still photographs of refugees everywhere, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Rohingya genocide, the Southern border of USA, and Ukraine, Türkiye/Syria earthquake, and the plight of women in Iran and Afghanistan, strengthen my resolve to work on this project, maybe more than one, while my focus/attention shifts from war to refugees to women's place in society.  
 
For whatever reason I revisit the project, and the draft, this time of year like clockwork. In 2021, I did a massive revision of the draft, ending up with a skeleton of what I had deposited in 2020, erasing the many segue identifying the meandering paths I had taken. To avoid  further culling of my thought-history, I'm posting what's left of the Feb 2020 draft for the record.  
 
* * * * *  
 
 "Syrie" has been on my mind, without urgency but making its presence known, hiding but also making sure I see her face in my periphery vision, or right in front of me blocking my way, sneering at the neglect it suffered, in the form of a small angry girl. I need to record how we got here in order to progress the project.

Origin:
Middle East was often a topic at our dinner table due to Dad's interest in this history and politics of the Middle East, the Holocaust, Palestine, Gaza, Golan Heights. As a kid, I was aware modern turmoil was never discussed in my convent school, even as we studied biblical Levant. As a youngish adult I was for a year a translator at the Syrian Embassy in Tokyo, a month after Syria ousted Palestinians to Lebanon.

I've wanted to work on a project based on all Dad taught me, what I've subsequently learned, how history continued in that region, but I wasn't sure what to focus on, and what to make on a loom. Then came Arab Spring, when I genuinely thought we were witnessing one giant step forward, but it was instead followed by a spate of government retaliation, military coups, and civil wars. Which as you recall lead to explosive numbers of refugees in all directions, citizen groups helping as well as opposing them, but in the worst instances, the media reducing their plight to a handful of photogenic children. 
 
Buildings and Windows:
Early on, I was irate when image search of "Syria" yielded photos of eerily silent, almost interchangeable achromatic photos of city scape, buildings and rubble. (I should have kept screenshots, because in 2021 the situation is different.) Not that I wanted to see them, but I found so few of crying, screaming, bleeding, fleeing, and dyeing people; only the bombed out buildings.

I observed how the media covered Syria and the subsequent refugee crisis, and began contrasting what they reported vs. what they showed. I didn't record what I observed, but I grew more aware of the emotional manipulation and twisting of the coverage. 
 
Silent photos of the charred buildings stuck in my mind, and this is how I started developing my first idea of tall buildings with gaps where windows used to be. Rather than a monochromatic, monolithic, clean version in the news coverage, I wanted to use all the colors of flames/fire for the walls of the burning building, and gray and black for the windows for the absence of humans and noise. I also contemplated inserting shadows of humans or ghosts in the windows, or spilling out of them.  Not all the panels/buildings would stand straight up, some would be falling uncomfortably on top of the viewers, while others will have fallen and crumbled and obstruct the viewers' path. The media went with the silent photos, I was aiming for the bloody, sooty, loud, messy, smelly uncomfortable version.

This would also be an easy transition from Pillars visually and technically; the buildings could be in fancy Syria-inspired twill, (Umayyad Mosque, shell-inlay, Damascas Ware patterns, Palmyra archeology...) which would have taken some time to work out, but all structural elements, panels and the windows, would be rectangular.

Refugees:
Following the Middle Eastern and African refugee influx into mainly Europe, (as covered by MSM) came refugees on the Southern boarders of the US, child separation, families divided, records "lost", separate deportation, babies on trial, sicknesses and deaths, "undocumented", dreamers, aliens, (I was a legal alien for a decade,) documents, testimonies, words, how law categorizes/labels humans. How the heck does a babe in diapers testify in court in a foreign language? However you categorize, each and every human has a life story. How do we record them?  

I started to see another option for the project. I became obsessed with visualizing a two-year-old's testimony in court: how does the court stenographer type it? What does it look like printed out? I see a lot of spit, /m/ and /b/, blank terrified stares, chubby finger pointing, perhaps. I smell milk and pee and maybe even a little sick. 

I tried to visualize ways I could represent great number of refugees' stories, their testimonies. A big red, (blood, but why?) scroll with text lines in charcoal/black, sometimes mixed with childish doodles. And drools. Perhaps maps. Texts/lines in different languages, sizes, orientations. Maybe many smaller "pages", perhaps even bound in a "book". Perhaps with torn/burnt, or missing parts. For exhibitions, I do like to submit whopping big pieces, as large as the venue allows.

How much research am I willing to do to learn other languages and scripts, albeit in a narrow context?  *Do I search the Internet for real stories?
*How about the bureaucratic intermediaries' influences? 
*How accurate are their recollections? Have the stories changed in the retelling? Have details been forgotten?  
*Have the stories been colored by other factors, like difference in perspectives, influence of accompanying adults, interpreters and other government workers? 
*Border/social worker/interpreter/bureaucrat may not have the cultural understanding, in part or as a whole; have they maliciously changed the stories?
*What about the untranslatables?
*What constitutes the true testimony? 
 
Does the languages/scripts need be real? How about acemic writing?Is it still true if only represented in acemic writing?
 
What about that old idea of hiding codes in the structure of weaving?

The Name:
I wrote previously I call this project "Syrie" temporarily to get away from the 1980s American "Syria/Libya=Bad" mentality. Of course, Syrie is French; France colonized the country, which brings a whole different set of baggage, but for now, it's a handy, symbolic label that covers all kinds of thoughts/ideas/feelings associated with this project, so I shall keep it until I need a different one.

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