RANDA MADDAH, Untitled, 2015, pencil on paper, 50 × 70 cm. Courtesy the artist and Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture, Dubai.


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The war in Syria rumbles on. The country is now fractured into three main zones, with the Assad regime holding major cities; US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces dominating the north; and anti-Assad factions in the hinterlands.

The National Museum of Damascus in Syria’s capital has a strong modern art collection. The Damascus Opera House (Dar al-Assad for Culture and Arts) and other institutions have run barebones programs since the 2011 uprising.

Cultural projects persevere in rebel areas. Kafranbel residents produce fewer banners, but they go viral when they are uploaded onto Facebook. The videos of anonymous pro-revolution filmmakers Abounaddara were screened in Athens and online during Documenta 14 (4/8–9/17), and a preliminary version of their second feature was shown in Kassel (9/14). Other online programs have faded, such as the Aleppo International Photography Festival and the Syria Mobile Phone Films Festival.

In Beirut, the nonprofit Ettijahat-Independent Culture provides funding for artists, and the film production hub Bidayyat produces documentaries and experimental video works and publishes timely articles on Syrian visual culture. In Istanbul, cultural house Hamisch (Margin) runs the critical web platform al-Jumhuriya.

The revolution forced many galleries to close, though some relaunched. The Damascus-based Atassi Gallery has become the Dubai-based Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture, and supports Syrian artists in exile with grants and exhibitions with loans. In Dubai, Rasha Salti and Mouna Atassi curated an exhibition of works from the foundation’s collection at Concrete space, “Syria: Into the Light” (3/10–4/3), with works by figures such as Randa Maddah.

 Other Damascus galleries include Samer Kozah Gallery and Kamel Gallery, which held exhibitions for painter Youssef Abdelke (12/17/16–1/26), Fouad Dahdouh (2/12–26) and sculptor Ehsan Alar (10/28–11/16). Tajalliyat Art Gallery opened a branch in Beirut, and has reopened its Damascus premises. Though its Damascus venue is closed, Ayyam Gallery remains active in the region, featuring Syrian-Lebanese painter Fathallah Zamroud in Beirut (9/6–10/28), while in Dubai it showed Safwan Dahoul’s paintings at Alserkal Avenue (1/9–3/4), as well as painter Abdalla al-Omari at its Dubai International Financial Centre space (5/22–7/1).

Abroad, photographer Hrair Sarkissian had a solo exhibition at the Sursock Museum in Beirut (7/7–10/2), where later Khaled Malas and the Sigil collective presented their parasitic windmill monument at the Sharjah Biennial 13 Act II exhibition, “Fruit of Sleep” (10/14–12/31). The British Museum acquired works created during the revolution by Syrian artist-activists, including The Syrian People Know Their Way, Fadi Yazigi, Houmam al-Sayed, Sulafa Hijazi and Jaber al-Azmeh. The Berlin-based painter Marwan passed away toward the end of 2016; his portraits were featured in the central exhibition at the 57th Venice Biennale (5/13–11/26).

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