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"Searching for Amazement", in Esber's Paintings

The entire story started few years ago, when I entered, for an issue related to work, the office of the new Chair of the English Language Teaching Department at the Higher Language Institute at Damascus University, Dr. Mada Saleh,whom at the point,I knew nothing about her rich background; yet from the first eye contact I felt something special, she was very welcoming with such a charming personality,her serenity and peace of mind revealed a vivid soul and mind. Two years later, I held a solo photography expo and invited Dr. Mada, who told me that her mother too is an artist. A year later, her mother, Dr. Fatma Esber,held an expo at Abu Roumana Cultural Center.

At that turning point, I realized a revelation of that exceptional artist, who turned  to  Adunis sister,the great Syrian poet and philosopher.

Dr. Fatma Esber,holds a Ph.D. in  Adunis poetry under the thesis title: “The Rejection Phenomenon in Adunis Poetry.”She tells Syriatimes that she has been deeply affected by her brother controversial personality since an early age, and then as poet when she investigated profoundly his poetic work, whereas later she will be inspired by his words when making paintings.

To the extent of declaring in an interview with Al Faisal newspaper in commemoration with Adunis ninetieth birthday:{“Searching for amazement" I do not know why this particular phrase made me raise my eyebrows over and over again.} She adds: "Perhaps I was trapped in those two words because they wanted to tell me something. I do believe in "things'', words, and letters have feelings, as if there is a hidden communicative relationship that may be out of sight for most, but certainly not for artists.``[i]

Art is the most expansive field for picking up objects' signals, and linking them together. Art had to be an avid research for amazement capable of revealing invisibility with such sincerity, only then, amazement would be captivating and existent.

Esber's artistic practices have been deeply affected and inspired by her brother's poems. She believes that there is a great overlap between painting and poetry, because the poet depicts metaphors, allegories, images with words, whereas the painter draws artistic images and worlds with colors and paintbrushes,  thus they are two complementary creative products. Esber indicated that a number of poets have chosen her paintings to be a cover for their poetry collections. To her, the relationship between painting and writing has to be mutual; a painting can inspire a writer, and a piece of writing can also be a source of insight for the artist. This is, as she explains, the case of her inspiration by Adunis’s poetry, and she aspires to have the ability to keep up with his powerfulness, peculiarity, quaintness, and his faculty of touching the consciousness of his recipients. Esber adds, ‘I have painted many themes inspired by lines of Adunis’s poetry, such as. “I am a king, and my kingdom is my steps”, “Our bodies are the planters and the reapers”, and “From the depth of annihilation, we profess love”’.

Esber, who entered the world of painting and creativity after her retirement, confirmed that creativeness has no age, as long as there is a flame sparkling inside our souls. She showed a great interest in drawing since her childhood and was attracted by fascinating landscapes in her Syrian coastal village, Kasabin. Yet she didn't follow an academic path toward fine art, as she holds a Ph.D. in Arabic literature studies from Cairo University. However, she made a comeback to art after retirement in 2010, after encouragement from many artist friends.

Esper believes that creativity and art are due to passion and devotion; which most probably will produce the promises of success if practiced correctly, pointing out that academic study, teaching artistic methods and schools,  do not make you an artist.

Esber asserts that the changing realities forced painters to make their way into symbolism and impressionism, which is rather intellectual, so to say, than visual, away from straightforward detailed depiction of reality. She rather thinks that going beyond the surface towards creating new visions and horizons, might make revelation for the future, presenting new aspects and values not only previously discussed ones; and demolishing outdated values and traditions, and building new ones.

Esberis not an adherent of a particular school of art, and has her very individual print in formulating art. Rather, she says: ‘When I paint, I become detached from all that is related to schools of art on the one hand, and ‘memory’ on the other hand. My experience is based on the ‘search’; an experience which might prove successful, or simply, not.

Her abstract art craft depicting symbolism in very prosaic settings like trees and women, yet conveying very impressive and dreamy messages.

Esber considers that even artistic criticism must go beyond old common terms of criticism in terms of mass, balance, and illumination of the painting.There are other questions to be posed like:what does the painting represent?What questions do the painting raise?What is the viewers vision away from the painter’s perspective? ;What horizons does  it open? Esber has expressed concerns that artistic criticism generally speaking, but more especially in the Arabic world, does not parallel the artistic products.

Artistic movement particularly in Syria has a variety and depth that surpasses any kind of artistic criticism.Since we do not have methodological critical movements or schools that should go alongside with the artistic movement itself, it will be very difficult to investigate and research this movement, which will most probably be later investigated by foreign researchers.Like Anneka Lessen, for instance, wrote a book about examining the works of artists Kahlil Gibran, Adham Ismail, and Fateh al-Moudarres, Beautiful Agitation explores how painters in Syria activated the mutability of form to rethink relationships of figure to ground, outward appearance to inner presence, and self to world.

Drawing on archival materials in Syria and beyond, AnnekaLenssen reveals new trajectories of painterly practice in a twentieth century defined by shifting media technologies, moving populations, and the imposition of violently enforced nation-state borders. The result is a study of Arab modernism that foregrounds rather than occludes efforts to agitate against imposed identities and intersubjective relations.

Esber, whose paintings predominantly tackle the human being, nature, life and women; considers that the function of art lies in these symbols and works on them. She focuses her paintings on themes related to women, portraying them as symbols of fertility and prosperity, deeply relating them to earth, to homeland. Women are a predominant portrait in Esber’s paintings, despite the fact of having a face with no clear features; it is communicative of reference to all women.

Finally, as a common taster of art, I would like to add that the deepness of the colors especially red shades in Esber's paintings took me to other worlds away from the common symbolism of red as blood or power; it was simply red as dreamy moons. Her style is as unique as she is, in her understanding of the world resonance around her.Sometimes,her paintbrushes strikes so delicately formed to trace very tiny thin lines, other times very big as the strikes that are blowing our lives away.


Interview & report: Lama Alhassanieh