For over 30 years, Syrian plastic artist Zuhair Hassib has spent most of his days in his studio in the Al-Saboura area near Damascus, working on his artistic projects without fuss, noise or pretence.
To him, the light of colours is the best answer to the darkness of life.
If Hassib, born in Jazeera, Syria, in 1960 to a Kurdish family, has managed to secure a prominent place in the current Syrian plastic art scene, it’s not because of his PR skills or his mastery of art galleries, media publications or the internet.
It is entirely thanks to his dedication to his craft.
Many friends, artists, and writers have left Damascus in recent years. However, Hassib - who had been deprived of a Syrian passport for decades and only obtained one after the Syrian crisis forced authorities to grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Kurds as a means to alleviate tensions – preferred to stay in Damascus.
He was guided by a poem by Mahmoud Darwish: "In Damascus, I know who I am in the crowd. A moon shining in a woman's hand guides me... A stone that performed ablution in the jasmine tears and then fell asleep."
This is not just a romantic fantasy but a conviction. According to Hassib, despite the historical pain and oppression, an artist must belong to his native environment and geography. He believes this can be a gateway to international recognition, whereas conforming to other people's tastes and "painting to order" does not produce real art.
In his art, far from ideological propaganda, Hassib prominently features women with their anxieties, struggles, concerns, fears, vulnerabilities, and longing for liberation. These women are not subject to standards of fashion or superficial beauty but are elevated by his brush to "goddesses of fertility and love", as seen in ancient civilisations.
Al Majalla talks to Hassib about his early influences and art in the time of war.
You were born in a simple environment which didn’t pay much attention to art. How did this passion for colour begin in your childhood?
It seems spontaneous, without any deliberate encouragement from my family or the modest educational institutions that existed then.
But now, after all these years, I can explain it more clearly.
The first hidden incentive was my father, who used to make ploughs and other tools in the rural Jazeera region of Syria. I used to watch him carve simple agricultural tools from tree trunks, somewhat reminiscent of wood carving. I still have some of those tools today and use some of them in my work.