On 12th June the Festival of Ideas at Foyles Bookshop hosted remarkable Syrian writers, Khaled Khalifa and Robin Yassin- Kassab, and a video artist and cinematographer Khalil Younes. The event was a part of the UK tour Syria Speaks. Art and culture from the frontline, which marked the publication of a book with the same title, a unique anthology of uprising literature, art and culture.
The evening was filled with stories, both fictional and real, full of darkness and hope, fear and friendship, all related to the revolution. At first we could hear a fragment from the award-winning Syrian novelist, screenwriter and poet Khaled Khalifa’s book Lettuce in Fields read by himself in Arabic and afterwards by Robin Yassin-Kassab in English. After the reading, the writer told anecdotes about Syrian censorship and talked about gratitude and fears which accompany every morning coffee in his house in Damascus.
Similar feelings were also present in Khalil Younes’s speech. The audience of the festival could see some reproductions of his illustrations, such as Hamza Bakkour, which commemorates a thirteen year old boy’s tragedy. Khalil Younes is not only an illustrator, video artist and painter but also an author of short stories. One of which, Chicken Liver, included in anthology, tells a real story about him and his friend who found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.
Likewise the above mentioned artists, Robin Yassin-Kassab presented a fragment of his yet unpublished book which was received with a warm applause. He shared his observations on Syria from the position of a writer and a journalist. According to him, every person in Syria has a terrible, unbelievable story to tell but not everyone has a chance to be heard. On the other hand, as he mentioned, media don’t always show the activities of people who bring hope and believe in humankind, such as the baker who stayed in Syria to bake bread for the local people or the man who publishes a children’s magazine for younger Syrians.
I truly believe that the UK tour Syria Speaks. Art and culture from the frontline gives an opportunity to Syrian people to express themselves beyond the media and for the British audience to hear an authentic voice of the Syrian revolution.
Written by Joanna Michta
Edited by Alicja Zajdel
Photo courtesy of Khalil Younes