Artist's Statement: Sara Shamma on Syria, Lebanon and art being "bigger than wars"

| 19 November 2013

Artist’s Statement: Sara Shamma fled Syria for Lebanon, where she now lives and works. Her first solo exhibition in London features Q, a 16.5-metre long set of works

A black and white photo of a female artist working inside her studio
© Courtesy Sara Shamma
“The exhibition consists of 10 paintings - oil and acrylic on canvas. Although they are all different lengths they come together to form one whole. They are all connected, showing the view of a queue of people and animals.

A queue is a good example of the transformative process of the individual succumbing to the collective identity of the herd.

All of the characters I create are imagined. I like to create individuals who don't exist. I imbue them with qualities and get to know them as if they were real.

I am inspired by everything around me. But all art history, contemporary artists, forms, genres and art movements are sources of information to help evolve my knowledge; they were never sources of inspiration to me.

Unfortunately, people try to see the artwork through the artist who created it: they see her life and a story behind the work, they try to understand the artwork as if it is a message that the artist wants to communicate.

Of course, it has the spirit of the person who created it but, in the end, it becomes independent from its creator.

People see me first as a Middle Eastern artist, then as a woman, and now as a female artist coming from a war zone, but I hope that after they see my work and enter inside my paintings, they will forget my background and start seeing themselves in my subjects - then Syria and its war become only two of the hundred identities that influence my paintings.

I think art is bigger than politics and bigger than wars. The wars finish in the end, but the art remains. Art doesn’t have to remind us about war and it doesn't have to make immediate change - it is a continuous development of the human feeling toward life, and it is almost the opposite of politics.

In the political context, I am sarcastic. I keep trying to find positive aspects in politics, but I end up nurturing my sarcasm and nausea; it makes me feel more isolated. I don’t take any part in war because taking part is the war itself.

Some intellectuals are living a big lie; they think, or pretend, that they are able to stop a war. But unfortunately they become a propaganda tool in the hands of one side that uses them against the other.

If I wanted to communicate a specific idea with my art, it would have been easier for me to write it on the wall - I don’t wish for it to be that way, though.

I want my painting to take the viewer to unlimited places, worlds and states. I want it to move their imagination, touch their senses and penetrate their consciousness.”

  • Q is at the Upper Gulbenkiam Gallery, Royal College of Art, London from November 28 – December 2 2013. Visit sarashamma.com for more.

More Artist's Statements:

Artist's Statement: Helen Wilson-Roe on Henrietta Lacks' story at the Science Museum

Artist's Statement: I was sniffed out by polar bears on the remote fjords of the Arctic

Artist's Statement: Jeremy Deller talks about his industrial revolution-themed jukebox

An image of an oil painting of a woman carrying a baby against a purple background
Sara Shamma, Untitled (2012). Oil and acrylic on canvas© Courtesy Sara Shamma
A picture of an oil painting of a nude woman standing next to a cow inside a purple room
Q9 (2011). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Sara Shamma
An image of an oil painting of a woman with a monkey on her back near some balloons
Q5 (2011). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Sara Shamma
An image of a painting of two men standing next to a robed skeleton inside a room
Q4 (2011). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Sara Shamma
An image of an oil painting of a man doing a handstand next to an ostrich
Q2 (2011). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Sara Shamma
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