A few meters away from the Lebanese town of Ksara in the Zahle district, the largest museum of Syrian plastic art is located today. It was founded in 2017 by artist and interior designer Ghaleb Sawan. The son of the Lebanese town of Saad Nayel began acquiring Syrian artworks since 1995, starting his long search for works of Syrian plastic art from the city of Aleppo. This painting dates back to 1870. Since that time, Sawan continued to acquire rare paintings and sculptures by senior Syrian artists, and today their number has reached more than four thousand works, including sculpture, photography and engraving.
Syrian paintings in the museum (Independent Arabia)
The Symposium Museum consists of 20 rooms spread over a floor area of about 1,200 square meters. This building was designed in the form of an open space, which was a copy of the Azem Palace in Damascus. About this building, Sawan says in an interview with “Independent Arabia”: “I started establishing the ‘Symposium’ museum in 2003. First, I bought the land allocated for this project, and after that I began to extract building materials from Aleppo and Damascus, and I tried to copy the architectural character of the Damascene Azem Palace through designing basalt columns, and by employing the Damascene Ablac stone in the construction of the walls of the museum, taking advantage of its charming formations, while the windows, doors and curtains were designed in the Damascene way. works and protect them from damage and vandalism.
The dream place
Inside the Museum (Independent Arabia)
For Ghaleb Sawan, the museum was the “dream place” as it is called, and therefore he took care of its smallest details during its construction. Sawan adds, “I cooperated in designing the place with Damascene craftsmen to implement everything related to the ancient Damascene architecture, even what is related to stained glass windows, heavenly space, Levantine mashrabiyas and their Islamic decorations, Ajami ceilings, copper fittings, and mullioned wood, all of which were carried out by craftsmen whose workshops were located in Ghouta, Damascus. That was Before the war destroys these wonderful studios, and their owners flee abroad.”
Sawan added: “Today, the dream has come true, and the ‘Symposium’ Museum has actually turned into a shrine for artists and those interested in Syrian plastic art. I am currently working on pursuing my project to transform the land surrounding the museum into creative residences for artists from Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Italy and France, and I have hosted many of them.” in the last year”.
The painting “Woman” by Naseer Shura (Independent Arabia)
The Zahlawi Museum is full of many works that cover the stages of Syrian formation since the pioneers stage, such as Michel Karshah, Mahmoud Hammad, Naseer Shura, and Nazem Al-Jaafari. Sawan tells us the story of his meeting with Al-Jaafari in his studio after 50 years of isolation that the late painter spent in his studio located in Shahbandar Square, in protest of the Ministry of Culture’s marginalization of him and his works. It has all the features of the ancient city of Damascus, its lanes and its traditional markets. This genius painter, who had a forbidden love story with a woman who he took as a model for his paintings, paid the tax for that dearly, and about this Sawan tells us: “I acquired more than 143 paintings for Al-Jaafari, and he had held an exhibition at that time in the “Thaqafi” hall. Abi Rummaneh” in Damascus after a long absence, so I acquired it completely, and I was saddened by the fate of this artist who documented the city of Damascus through works that I keep in my museum. The huge mural.
The painting of Our Lady of Saydnaya by the Syrian artist Michel Karshah (The Independent Arabia)
The Symposium Museum is full of many rare works by the artists of the first generation, including Ezekiel Taurus, Abdel-Wahhab Abu Al-Saud, Sherif Orfali, Fateh Al-Mudarres, Milad Al-Shayeb and Waheed Maghrebeh, in addition to the works of Abdel-Qader Al-Nawab, Faiq Dahdouh and Elias Al-Zayyat. The walls of the museum are occupied by many works that document stages of the political struggle, archaeological monuments and aspects of daily life in Syria, including the painting “The Revolution” by Ghazi Al-Khalidi, the painting “Sunrise in Ghouta” by Saeed Tahseen, the “Don Quixote” group by Saad Yakan and the painting “Cotton Picking”. by Mamdouh Kashlan, the painting “The Two Sisters” by Louay Kayali, the painting “The Market of the West” by Michel Karshah, and the painting “Our Lady of Saydnaya” by Naseer Shura, in addition to works by Syrian sculptors such as Mustafa Ali, Lotfi Al-Ramhin, Fouad Abu Assaf, and Adnan Engila.
The museum includes works by artists from the second generation of the stars of the Syrian plastic movement, such as Ahmed Mualla, Talal Mualla, Fouad Dahdouh, Ghassan Naana, Edward Shahda, Nabil Samman, Anwar Al-Rahbi, Ayman Al-Daqr and Nizar Sabour, in addition to Hussam Ballan, Naim Shalash, Ali Murad and Elias Ayoub… There are many schools and periods that It is documented by the “Symposium” museum, in addition to a huge archive that Sawan is currently working on preparing with a specialized team managed by his daughter, the artist Diana Sawan, to photograph all the works, and place them in a virtual museum that will be available on a platform for the Lebanese “symposium” on social media, in order to provide an opportunity To introduce the works of art that the museum houses within its walls.
In addition to the Syrian works that cover more than 90 percent of the museum’s area, there are works by Lebanese artists such as Hassan El-Jouni, Osama Baalbaki, Omar Fakhoury, Najla Hobeish, Aref El-Rayes, Hussein Madi, and Iraqis such as Jabr Alwan, Sirwan Baran, Riad Nehme, Salam Omar and Hafez Al-Droubi, and Egyptians such as Adam Hanin and Shalabiya Ibrahim. The museum is interested in the works of Arab artists, and in this regard we ask its founder about the reasons for this interest and passion for various aspects of plastic art in his country and the Arab countries. And sculptures that express the political, social and cultural eras of the countries that I am keen to visit and see and acquire the works of their artists.”
Finally, the “Symposium” museum witnessed the signing of an artistic agreement between the Iraqi sculptor Ahmed Al-Bahrani and the Palestinian painter Suleiman Mansour, who painted the painting “Jamal Al-Mahamel”, which represents the Palestinian farmer and the struggling man who carried his cause, and toured it like a globe on his back. for Suleiman and presenting it as a sculpture by Al-Bahrani. This cooperation came within the framework of a large art exhibition that will be opened soon in Cairo. About this partnership, Sawan tells us, saying, “This is all in order to find a relationship or connection between painting and sculpture, or rather networking between painters and sculptors in joint work. Especially among the younger generation, that is why the museum acquired works by new artists, all of whom have bright and promising talents.
Dozens of works by pioneers, founders, and modernists in Syrian plastic art constitute a visual, historical, and artistic document on the development of art in the country, but without any initiative from the Ministry of Culture to return these works, as the last attempt to establish a museum of modern art ended with the handing over to the Syrian Ministry of Culture of the land that was Dedicated to this project to build a zoo in the Al-Adawy neighborhood in Damascus.
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Regarding the possibility of returning Syrian works to their home country, Ghaleb Sawan says, “I am ready to present the four thousand works that I own as a gift to the Syrian Ministry of Culture in the event that I am allowed to build a museum in my name in Syria, but this has not been achieved so far, although I have tried to communicate with The Syrian Ministry of Culture more than once, and there were promises, but without any actual step on the ground, so why do they not allow the establishment of a private museum in Syria, like all countries in the world?
A question that remains in the custody of the Syrian Ministry of Culture and its Directorate of Fine Arts, which also suffers from poor archiving and organization of its collections of works of Syrian plastic art, as more than 45 thousand paintings are subject to inappropriate conditions in the warehouses of the Directorate, because they are not prepared to store this huge number of works. Moreover, the Directorate has not yet completed the plan to archive these works, nor has it placed them on its website on the Internet, which makes the history of Syrian plastic art in real danger due to neglect, and as a result of dealing not seriously with this special artistic visual heritage, of a country that most of its painters and sculptors abandoned, leaving behind Their most beautiful works are in dark and damp warehouses, in which the painting deteriorates like a corpse of color dripping on the signatures of its owners.