The Daily Star interviews Syrian poet Adonis on the eve of the opening of “A,” an exhibition of his visual art in Paris. The exhibition runs until May 10, 2015 at the Galerie Azzedine Alaïa.

Adonis’ visual works incorporate poetry directly – as his “experiments with visual art began by taking verses by such great Arab poets as Bashar ibn Burd, or the pre-Islamic poet Abu Zuaib al-Huzal” as a way “to pay them homage.” Adonis also comments on the calligraphic nature of his work: “Arabic letters have such a physical dimension.”

The Daily Star article quotes the poet on the difference between a poem and a painting – according to Adonis, everything is poetry, and thus “The difference between a poem and a painting is simply the material that has been used.”

Adonis’ visual art is a lyrical blend of calligraphy, collage and ink. Sometimes compared to collage, he’s coined the term “raqima” for this work – from “raqama,” which he says means to write and color simultaneously.

Adonis, Untitled, 2005, mixed media collage. Source
Adonis, Untitled, 2005, mixed media collage. Source

In a 2012 interview in Ibraaz, Adonis explained his visual style at more length:

“I find that these collages are like graphemes, or rather that they’re based on the Arabic word raqima, which has three meanings: calligraphy, colouring and figurative drawing. I find it easier to relate to the visual world using this technique than with poetry. It has also allowed me to reconsider objects for which there is usually no consideration – fragments, bits and pieces, pieces of iron, bits of cloth, stone, thread – anything that’s thrown away but which, when you gather it together, you give meaning to. It’s almost like a dialogue between existing and not existing, all on the same page.”

The article discusses Adonis’ political engagements and his role in the Arab Spring – this is also something that was sensitively discussed in the Ibraaz interview, excerpted below:

LA: I found a quotation from the early days of Shi’r, the poetry magazine you helped found in Lebanon in the 1950s, which states: ‘Our movement has no ideological or political affiliation. It is entirely dedicated to poetry… To transpose an ideological and political conflict into the realm of poetry is truly regrettable and damages the poetic cause to which Shi’r has devoted itself’. Is this a condition of poetry – to be a-political, just as you often remark that you are non-religious?

A: It depends on your definition of politics. The politics that I mean is that related to an ideology, an ideological conflict. This is one definition and I am against this definition. I feel that all poets that have tried to impose this vision of politics on their poetry have not produced any interesting work, from the Socialist Realists to others

In The Daily Star article Adonis comments on the freedom he has found in painting, in producing something with his hands, commenting that there is a lack of appreciation for what is hand-made in the Arab world:

“In the Arab world there is not enough appreciation for all that is produced by hand,” he said. “You only need to look at the extraordinary handicrafts, the creativity in this handiwork. I began somewhat spontaneously to give freedom to my hands.”


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