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June 20th, 2022


Screening: Imploded Burnt, Turned to Ash

Screening in CAP Theatre

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Imploded, burned, turned to ash
Drawing and Sound Performance
Duration: 36 min 08 sec

By Issam Kourbaj

This performance by the Syrian-born and Cambridge-based artist Issam Kourbaj was created to mark one decade of the Syrian uprising. It was performed and livestreamed on 15 March 2021 – the tenth anniversary of the first day of unrest. Filmed during the second COVID-19 lockdown at The Howard Theatre at Downing College, Cambridge, it was watched live across the world. In collaboration with the composer Richard Causton and the soprano Jessica Summers, as well as Kettle’s Yard, The Heong Gallery and The Fitzwilliam Museum, the original performance also coincided with the artist’s display of 366 eye idols created from Aleppo soap (Don’t Wash Your Hands: Neither Light Agrees To Enter The Eyes Nor Air The Lungs, 2020) at the Fitzwilliam Museum (2 December 2020–5th September 2021).

In March 2021, Kourbaj said:

“To mark the tenth anniversary of the Syrian uprising, which was sparked by teenage graffiti in March 2011, this drawing performance will pay homage to those young people who dared to speak their mind, the masses who protested publicly, as well as the many Syrian eyes that were, in the last ten years, burnt and brutally closed forever.”

This performance is currently being screened in multiple locations worldwide, including cultural institutions and churches across the UK, Europe, Middle East and USA, throughout Refugee Week (20–26 June 2022). The ash produced during the original performance will also be installed in a glass vessel next to the screen at selected locations, including St James’s Piccadilly, London, and Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge. The performance will also be available to watch virtually on associated websites that will be accessible to anyone unable to make it to one of the physical locations.

The idea of screening it in multiple locations and on the internet reflects the diaspora of many Syrians forced to leave their destroyed homes and erased cities, who are now scattered across the world, while the glass vessel of ash casts light on war’s terrible continuity (even when it is no longer mentioned in the media) and the destruction of all cities and livelihoods, which we see repeated time and again (as is now tragically happening in the Ukraine) and throughout human history.

Aldeburgh, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Hastings, Leiden, London, Newcastle, Peterborough, Philadelphia.

ONLINE SCREENING:, Art and Christianity, Atassi Foundation, Counterpoint Arts, Fitzwilliam Museum, Heong Gallery, Kettle’s Yard, Qisetna, Scènes blanches, Scottish Refugee Council, St Mary Redcliffe, The Markaz Review, The Refugee Week.

Issam comes from a background of fine art, architecture and theatre design. He was born in Syria and trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and at Wimbledon School of Art (London). Since 1990, he has lived and worked in Cambridge, eventually becoming an Artist in Residence at Christ’s College and a Bye-Fellow (2007-2011), where he is now the Lector in Art.
In 2009, as part of Cambridge University’s celebration of its 800th anniversary, Issam was invited to design the sets for the play Let Newton Be! and for a contemporary dance piece Light Matters, which was presented in the University Senate House. His Cambridge Palimpsest, a puzzle box linking time and archaeology, was also published by Cambridge University Press as part of the celebrations and was presented to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their first official visit to Cambridge.
He is interested in collaborating with other creative science and humanity disciplines and has produced work using different forms of Camerae obscurae, inspired by Ibn Al-Haytham’s work on optics.
His work has been widely exhibited and collected and in 2008, a collection of his sketches Sound Palimpsest (some inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh and others by language, war and memory) was acquired by the British Museum and exhibited in their Iraq’s Past Speaks to the Present exhibition, run in parallel with their major 2008-2009 exhibition Babylon: Myth and Reality. The Museum also featured Issam’s work in their 2011 exhibition: Modern Syrian Art at the British Museum (part of the 1st Shubbak Festival: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture).
Since then his work has related to the Syrian Crisis and reflects on the destruction of his cultural heritage.

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