Penn Museum's Dark Waters Community Art Project Responds to Syrian Crisis

  • PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania
  • /
  • September 06, 2017

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Close up shot of Dark Water, Burning World, one of seven installation pieces that comprise renowned Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj’s art intervention in the Penn Museum special exhibition, Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq.

Dark Waters: 2,379 Days and Counting: Syrian Artist Issam Kourbaj
Leads Community Art Project, Performance in Response to Crisis in Syria

Penn Museum Hosts Free Event Sunday, September 17, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Drop-in Workshop);
5:00 to 6:00 pm (Performance by Artist)

On September 17, 2,379 days will have passed since the Syrian uprising on March 15, 2011. The staggering loss of human life and displacement of Syrian people continues.

In response to the ongoing crisis in his homeland, internationally renowned Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj has been raising awareness, as well as humanitarian aid, on several continents through the powerful, unflinching medium of his art.

Issam Kourbaj, on left, talks with Museum visitors in the special exhibition.

Sunday, September 17, 2017, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, the Penn Museum in Philadelphia hosts Kourbaj’s latest artistic community project: Dark Waters: 2,379 Days and Counting.

At the day’s drop-in workshop with the artist, 11:00 am through 5:00 pm, people of all ages are invited to join in the creation of 2,379 small tin foil and plaster boats.  At 5:00 pm, the boats will be incorporated into a live performance by Kourbaj, a variation on his notable video piece titled Strike. The performance will be live-streamed for guests and others unable to stay for the performance.

Issam Kourbaj’s work is currently featured in the Penn Museum special exhibition Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq, created in conjunction with the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. Cultures in the Crossfire sheds light on the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East by showing what’s at stake—the rich history of the region and the diversity of its people—and what’s being done to prevent the loss of this history and cultural identity. Ancient art and artifacts from the Museum’s Near East collection tell stories of the cultures of Syria and Iraq through time, while Kourbaj’s contemporary artwork provides an art intervention—a modern-day response to the artifacts and themes.

The workshop and performance, a Peace Day Philly program, are offered free in the Museum’s outdoor Stoner Courtyard; the exhibition is free with Museum admission.

About Issam Kourbaj

Born in Suweida in the South of Syria, artist Issam Kourbaj trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and at Wimbledon School of Art (London). Since 1990, he has lived and worked in Cambridge, UK, where he is also a Lector in art. Since the 2011 uprising, Kourbaj has been raising awareness and money for projects and aid in Syria. In 2013, he raised funds for the Syria Crisis Appeals of Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) through his exhibition Excavating the Present in Cambridge, and proceeds from Scattered, Gathered, a joint exhibition with Nizar Sabour shown in Kuwait, went to Al Madad Foundation’s education and literacy programs in Aleppo. In 2014, he held a solo exhibition called Unearthed, proceeds from which were donated to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and a work inspired by the Syrian crisis, called The dark side of the “unknown” ray, was shown as part of a group show in London in May 2015. His travelling installation Another Day Lost is based on Syrian refugee camps and was shown in five locations across London (July 2015). Since then, it has traveled widely, including a show on a boat on the River Thames, at Trinity Wall Street in New York, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, and Twelve Gates Arts in Philadelphia.

The Penn Museum invited him to create an art intervention, woven throughout the special exhibition Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq (on view through November 26, 2018). Seven of his works created in diverse media—including Dark Water, Burning World (2016), an installation of boats repurposed from old bikes’ mudguards and inspired by 5th-century BCE Syrian boats—are woven throughout the exhibition.

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