Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Reclaiming spaces: in conversation with Bashar And Sami Zarour of Art Siin (”) Gallery

By Ayesha Khan - May 27, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [artist] [Ramallah]

In the case of Bashar and Sami Zarour, comparisons to any predecessors or contemporaries would not do justice to their innovative efforts in cultivating an inclusive art community that recognizes upcoming talent in the city of Ramallah that bears both charm and challenge due to its socio-political circumstances. The dynamic duo are not a pair of typical upcoming artists. These brothers have managed to open their own gallery, Art Siin (”), in the heart of Ramallah. Rooting from the cultural ethos of rich poetry, dense history, and revered artistic self-expression that has been trivialized by a lack of resources, they have materialized their setbacks into opportunity.
Art Siin (”) gallery had its opening on May 20th with its first exhibition, Spaces, which will be on display till June 3rd. It showcased ten upcoming artists, whose work relates to the idea of figurative and physical spaces - whether it be through depicting emotions of nostalgia and grace, or even paintings of the streets of Nablus. The politicized styles of Basquiat and the colourful subtleties of Pollock, which have been foundational for contemporary art were apparent in the theme of the exhibition. For art critics, it is important to recognize the peculiar idea behind the exhibition of unapologetically reclaiming spaces within the subcontext of imaginative vulnerability.
While, Bashar, 28, has studied art in New York with a minor in political science and social studies, and Sami, 26, has studied visual arts and graphic design in Jordan, both have shared an interest towards making art an interactive experience. Hence, they set out to create their own medium to attract an artistically inclined community through establishing their own gallery that aims to give a spotlight to upcoming artists struggling to make a name for themselves. After attending their gallery opening, it was obvious that their objective has been fulfilled, as a diverse crowd of locals and internationals poured in, who seemingly belonged to all ages and professional backgrounds. You can see their work ethic has paid off in successfully expanding the so called 'art bubble’ in Ramallah.
The following interview took place at their gallery that boasts a minimalist appeal. Over coffee, and with subtle hums of instrumental music ushering from the background, I got the opportunity to unearth the aspirations of the Zarour brothers.

Where did the idea for the name of the gallery, Art Siin (), come from?

BZ: The letter siin is like the letter 'x’ in English, it represents the unknown. We are exposing the art scene to these upcoming and unknown artists.
SZ: We chose from different names at first and did a logo for them, as well, but we ended up changing it to Art Siin (). This is the third name over the two years.[laughs]

How did the idea of opening this gallery come about?

BZ: We first got the idea to start exhibiting our work to make a name for ourselves, but from that need we thought to set-up a gallery to help not only ourselves, but also upcoming artists.

What have been some challenges in opening the gallery?

BZ: The biggest challenge was money, because the gallery is a hundred percent self-funded, so it took a lot of time to prepare.
SZ: Plus, we had to do all the work ourselves to get the money.
BZ: Our family has a film production company. So, we have worked in advertising, graphic design, and freelance. Also, we have participated in working on a few feature and documentary films in the past, as well. It took us two years to put this together bit by bit.

Who and what has been your ideal model or a role model through the process of setting up the gallery?

BZ: I don’t know if there is a specific ideal model, there has been a lot, but at the same time no models to look at either. In business, I take my father as a role model, who owns Collage Productions. In art, I take my friends and art teachers as an influence, who are now well established artists.
SZ: We have done research on galleries in Europe, the Arab world, and the United States. We then thought of the best model for a gallery that would serve our needs best.

What is your primary objective through establishing this gallery?

BZ: What we essentially want is to establish is a place where young, upcoming artists and talents can find a medium to connect with other artists, art collectors, and buyers.

Do you think the art scene is flourishing in Ramallah, specifically, right now?

BZ: The art scene is definitely flourishing as of recently, since there have been about two or three generations of internationally acclaimed Palestinian artists. With every generation they pave the way for the next one to come, making it easier for us than the previous generation.

What are some factors that you think have contributed to the recent development of arts in Ramallah?

SZ: I think the art scene in Palestine has been built entirely by Palestinians. It does not have the element of foreign funding much - I’m speaking about privately-owned galleries and art collectors. But, of course, foreign funding affects the organizations that give workshops and such.

Are there any collaborations you are looking forward to?

BZ: We hope to do collaborations with local organizations, and in the long run, we would like to do some form of an exchange exhibition with international galleries - to have Palestinian artists shown internationally and vice versa.

Does art have to be political in order for it to be considered art? Or is all art political theoretically speaking?

BZ: It definitely does not have to be political, but art reflects life. Our political situation here affects it. I actually find that for new artists it is difficult to come out of political issues and separate the two.
SZ: My last paintings had nothing to do with politics. It has to do with dance, movement, and memories. For me ideally, I do not consider that art has to be political in order for it to be considered art.

Do Palestinian artists bear the unfair burden of having their art always relate to life under Occupation?

BZ: I think it is not a burden for them, but for the audience. Especially, the international audience, because at some point we are getting tired of seeing the same topic over and over just presented differently. It is difficult for new artists to come out of this political sphere and do something else.

What is the dynamic between you two brothers throughout this whole process?

BZ: I think we have a really close relationship.
SZ: Since we graduated, we have been working on the same projects.
BZ: We are close in all walks of life.

Is there an ideology that inspires your artistic work?

BZ: There is a quote that I actually like by Leonardo da Vinci, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” This quote shaped the way I think about art. Even if you do a piece of art and look at it a year after, you will find things to fix and add to it. At some point you just need to let it be and move on.

What medium of art do you personally partake in?

BZ: We paint. We draw.
SZ: We do street art like graffiti and murals.

Are any of your exhibitions coming up?

SZ: I’m having my first solo exhibition in Estonia at the beginning of September. It is going to be with a contemporary dancer, Karolin Poska, from Estonia who is the subject of my paintings. She is going to do a performance at the opening of the exhibition.
BZ: I have a show coming up at the end of June in France.

Is there a specific message you are trying to send to your audience through the work you are exhibiting at the gallery?

BZ: In Palestine, the audience for art is the same, it is a bubble that rarely finds new people, but by exposing new artists we are hoping to expand this bubble.
SZ: Naturally, when there are new art spaces there will be new audiences.
BZ: There are a lot of messages, but one specific one would be expression and critiquing life in our society, which is a very important issue. We want to spark interest in people for art and different styles of art.
SZ: Our gallery is an artist run gallery.
BZ: Exactly, there are two things that are unique about our gallery. First thing, it is the only gallery that focuses on new talent. Right now, we are only taking unknown, unestablished artists. Other thing is that we are artists ourselves.

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