Joumana Mortada: The creative bringing colour to Syrian art
In a cosy atelier, 25-year-old Syrian artist Joumana Mortada recoils deep in thought after splashing heavy yellow and red paint on a bright canvas, “Art is the language of the eye,” she exclaims.
The artist hurriedly weaves between the many untidied pots and brushes at a workshop in the heart of ancient Damascus, preparing for her exhibition, amply named Colours.
Fourteen bold paintings with lively shades and dripping themes of nature were displayed at the chic Art House gallery in Damascus’ upmarket Mazzeh district.
The gallery — once an old Turkish hammam — doubles up as a swanky art hotel, drawing large crowds.
“I always search out the light and chase it, that’s why it features so heavily in my works. The sunshine in the ancient town comes at you sparsely, there is a big contrast between shadows and light”
Joumana’s vibrant artworks and unique colour palette have singled her out among an emerging mass of talented up-and-coming young artists, and she’s just getting started.
Speaking exclusively to The New Arab, she reveals her purest inspiration: “Old Damascus is what resonates with me the most, the scents, landscapes, old buildings and the sky especially. I spent hours on end on the windowsill watching the sky from my house.
“I always search out the light and chase it, that’s why it features so heavily in my works. The sunshine in the ancient town comes at you sparsely, there is a big contrast between shadows and light.”
Joumana shared the stage at the Art house with artist Ayat Al-Zoubi — a specialist collage artist — where keen visitors eagerly surveyed the works, a reflection of how art is on a course for revival in the country that is reeling from war and disasters.
Twenty-seven-year-old art enthusiast Ghina Harmosh was one of many who flocked to see the exhibition, she sees hope in Joumana’s works, telling The New Arab:
“I found that the younger generation has unique and powerful stories to tell. The ideas they expound, we should follow because they lived through the crisis and the pain and difficulties in life," she told The New Arab.
“Joumana [Mortada] as an artist has a rare way of communicating her story, apart from the fact she is naturally cheerful and her character is reflected in her work, her paintings are vivid in both colour and nature. You can see mountains, volcanoes, landscapes, trees and rivers, but they are alive, the red in her work signifies anger and the blue calm.”
Joumana doesn’t see art as merely a profession: "Art for me is a refuge and escape and it is the reality that we live or want to live, this reality speaks to the inside of every person, it’s something personal between the artist and the piece, and this is then reflected in the audience it is truly a language of the eye, to speak to people in every place and time.”
Graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University, a renowned nucleus for creative talents in the Middle East, Joumana developed a unique method for her work.
Between Nature and Colour, her graduation project utilised new techniques that adopt thicknesses in colour patterns and focus on its strength and transparency, using charcoal pen and acrylic paints, while giving more space to tone and shadow in the painting.
As Syrians share the collective trauma of conflict and migration, Joumana’s work takes on a more sombre meaning with much of the focus on the sky, landscape and the sea relating to the mass exodus that has crippled the county.
“Nature is linked to our memories as Syrians, because of the migration people have left through, the sky, the sea, and land," Joumana reminded The New Arab.
"Our collective experience as Syrians let me visualise the sea in red, and the sky’s colour is constantly changing you may find darkness in my work and charcoal because there is a dark undertone, despite the brightness.
“My aim is always for the audience to feel at ease when seeing the painting, to get a real vibe and energy from the work, I know that anything authentic and honest will get the message across clearly.”
Joumana participated in the Once Upon a Time Window exhibition held by esteemed art professor Bouthaina Ali in Damascus and Aleppo where she used coloured plexi with white doves to resemble a three-dimensional walk-in installation.
Her description at the time echoed her artistic philosophy: “I’m here; my painting is here, you see. But for the first time, my transparent colours reflected who I was. I will spread it from every angle. And my white bird is a stroke of light in my sky. It’s my soul, my painting, and you are inside it; right now, I’m breathing."
Danny Makki is an analyst covering the internal dynamics of the conflict in Syria, he specialises in Syria’s relations with Russia and Iran
Follow him on Twitter: @danny_makki