Issa Touma, staunch critic of government and oppositional groups alike, has been forced to navigate through external pressure and attempts of control as well as having to work in an increasingly hostile environment as Aleppo has transformed into a warzone. Touma, who will be based in Gävle for the upcoming two years, hope to continue his work in Syria. Through his practices, Touma has proven the importance of art and culture in conflict zones.
- I feel extremely relieved now that Issa has finally arrived. It has been a great and delicate work, but now he is here. Many artists around the globe live under a constant threat for their lives. By giving Issa Touma refuge in Gävle, we hope that other artists will hear of the possibility of applying for shelter through an ICORN residency, says Hanna Nordell, City of refuge coordinator, Gävle municipality.
Issa Touma has been a central figure in the art community of Aleppo since the mid 1990's and has continued his artistic work despite recurring pressure. The foundation of Touma's work is Le Pont Gallery, situated in the heart of Aleppo, which has been an artistic and intellectual safe haven since 1996. He has organized annual art events such as the International Photography Festival Aleppo and the International Women's art festival.
Among Touma’s latest photographic work, Woman We Have Not Yet Lost stands out. The series of photographs were taken at Le Pont in April 2015, a time when Aleppo experienced rapidly escalating violence. A number of women of different religious and ethnic backgrounds hid in the gallery and shared their stories. Together they decided to arrange a photo shoot, a sort of last message from those still alive.
In 2012, Issa Touma initiated Art Camping in response to the outbreak of the conflict in Syria and to illustrate the living, breathing people behind the numbers and statistics published in international media. Art Camping is a participatory art project where young people of different backgrounds are encouraged to express themselves through art and culture. The essence of the project is as much about art production, as it is about working together and fostering dialogue, agency and resistance. The project also captures an alternative view of Aleppo from that shown in the international media. Among Touma’s latest works, another piece should also be mentioned: The internationally recognized film entitled 9 DAYS – From My Window in Aleppo, created together with Thomas Vroege and Floor van der Meulen.
In my artistic practice I’ve been forced to consequently adjust and alter my way of work to be able to express myself and to tell those stories otherwise lost. Art Camping is a clear example of this, says Issa Touma.
Issa Touma is a fantastic artist and his unwavering struggle for art as a uniting power clearly shows that the need for artistic perspectives is crucial in areas struck by war and conflict, says Hanna Nordell, City of refuge coordinator, Gävle municipality.
CITY OF REFUGE GÄVLE & ICORN
The municipality of Gävle committed to the ICORN charter in September 2015, thus becoming the world’s first city of refuge for a visual artist.
See interview with Issa Touma in Swedish Television SVT