I recently came across “Roads to Damascus”, a musical and visual art collaboration by the composer Kinan Abou-afach and Armenian-Syrian visual artist Kevork Mourad, which uses music and live painting as vehicles to create a new way of storytelling, making usually static paintings that people stand and look at for a few seconds into works of narrative which come alive through time and through the rhythm of the music.
Looking at the video, I felt that I had seen something similar before and I remembered a project some years ago with Mourad collaborating with the Syrian clarinet player Kinan Azmeh, in a recreation of the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh.
Of course at the time the “current unrest in the seat of the world’s ancient civilization” was Iraq. More recently (last year) Mourad and Azmeh collaborated again to produce “A Sad Morning Every Morning” described as “A little prayer for home. Dedicated to all those who have fallen in Syria in the past year.”
The video captures the sense of futility and helplessness as the familiar vanishes and is replaced by chaos and confusion. As Kevork Mourad describes another of his works about Syria in Jadaliyya:
After hearing so many horrible stories about what is happening in my country of birth, from the news and from friends, I decided to create an artistic representation of the cycle of loss and hope that is playing out. I took on the role of a young Syrian going through all the chaos in the country. He is born into an ordinary life but then is caught up in the turmoil. In the video, as you follow his path, you realize that things are melting away from him, like in a nightmare. The diversity of the city’s architecture, representative of its cultural wealth, is slowly destroyed. But when the upturn happens–when you think that the city might find itself again–the man vanishes.