06 September 2006

Issa Touma (3): The Comtinuing Saga of Government Interference with the Arts in Syria

This post is another update on Issa Touma (pictured above) the Syrian photographer who runs the Le Pont Gallery in Aleppo. Among the very first posts I made to this blog called attention to his troubles with Syrian authorities. I updated in a second post some months later and his work prompted additional posts here and here. This afternoon I received another email from Issa which I summarize below.

Late last month a Danish magazine published this interview with Issa complete with examples of the sort of art he is trying to promote in an exhibition called "Images of Syria" that just closed in Copenhagen . In that interview Issa remarks:

"In September 2006 I’m organizing The International Photography Gathering which is going to be a big event. The festival is a recurrent event each year, except for last year when my gallery was closed. I hope the government isn’t planning to cause any problems this time.

In 2004 during this festival, they tried to stop the activities by cutting the electricity. But a friend of mine brought his car to the exhibition and turned on the headlights which enabled us to continue the show. The works were then showed in the light from the car.

This year I will show about 1400 works of art and more than 70 artists are coming from 32 countries. I hope that everything will run smoothly. If the government tries to make interferences at the festival, it will be a big black spot on the governments head. Furthermore I don’t think that the famous artists who are coming can be shut up."

Well, these hopes have been disappointed as, apparently, the Syrian authorities have yet again interfered with the photo festival in Aleppo. In his email Issa describes a pattern of obstruction and harassment by various government agencies. He has been denied access to a public venue crucial to the festival by the Ministry of Electricity, most likely under instructions of the provincial Governor. Postal authorities have illegally impounded packages destined for Issa's gallery and then sought to impose excessive fees for handling and storing them. The Ministry of Culture has threatened to withdraw permission for performances of artists and musicians who participate in Issa's festival rather than in competing events at an official Cultural Center in Aleppo. All of this bad behavior seems clearly orchestrated to undermine the opening of the photography festival which is due to open in Aleppo on September 15th. Perhaps a little negative publicity will give the Syrian authorities pause.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

All what i can say that issa is a real lover to Syria. He could simply leave the country and live happily in other country enjoying more peacful art production, yet he prefered, for the sake of the beloved Syria, to stay firm in face of all the destructive trials, saving the great things those festivals bring along to Syria and to the people of Syria. Thank you Issa for staying there and continuing the journey of enlightment.

08 September, 2006 03:13  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I agree wholly. Isssa Touma is really heroic - a "politician" not by choice but by nececssity, he has had his difficulties thrust upon him by the government. His aim is imsply to expand the realm of intellecctual and artistic freedom in Syria and thereby enhance communication among peoples in the broader Middle East. I have never met him but admire him immensely.

08 September, 2006 09:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there, I am just interested if there are any news on the situation in Syria for Touma?

18 March, 2007 10:15  
Blogger elie said...

anyone could help me get in touch with Issa Touma , i am based in Dubai with a new Photographic Gallery opening called " Empty Quarters". Interested in working with emerging and established Arab Photographers , my email : ecco@emirates.net.ae
thank you

18 September, 2007 03:44  

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