'A dream costs nothing': Syrian art exhibition depicts nostalgia, hope, and love

'A dream costs nothing': Syrian art exhibition depicts nostalgia, hope, and love
5 min read
20 July, 2023

Syrian sculptor Safaa al-Set had deeply pondered the idea of what constitutes a dream, she asked “What is my dream? what is your dream? what are our dreams today?”

While the answers differ from person to person, the results came to her in a powerful 17-piece exhibition that showcased various visions in a dazzling form of sculptures of varying shapes, sizes, insignia, and techniques.

"Daydreaming reflects the time that we subsist in, there isn’t a person who doesn’t dream, whether he is awake or asleep. Constantly, people are thinking, imagining, and dreaming"

The heavy metal pieces, painstakingly forged and perfected are a symbol of love, cruelty, pain, and optimism, dealing with concepts such as wandering, meeting absent friends, reunion, motherhood, and homeland.

Safaa averred: “A dream costs nothing, the fine line between a dream and a wish is daydreaming,” which is how she came up with the title of the exhibition.   

A dream costs nothing
"Finding a Partner in Life" meshes figments of fortunes [Safaa al-Set]

Speaking to The New Arab in an exclusive interview, she delved into how the concept came to her: "An artist is sensitive to the realities that are in their lives, far removed from his own personal treasure trove of ideas and themes, feelings are altered by events.”

While presenting the mammoth pieces in the unconventional location of a house [the pieces were too large for a gallery] in the upmarket Abu Remaneh district in Damascus, she paused for thought.

“My previous exhibitions dealt with war and the condition of the country, I’ve portrayed animals to represent the death that was occurring, but I felt that we are slowly exiting that phase and something new, more hopeful, was needed," she adds.

“Daydreaming reflects the time that we subsist in, there isn’t a person who doesn’t dream, whether he is awake or asleep. Constantly, people are thinking, imagining, and dreaming, part of the project is my dreams, and another is the dreams of those people around me, I get lots of my inspiration from novels and nature.”

"Cinderella" entices us to daydream a fairy tale ending [Safaa al-Set]

One installation called Finding a Partner in Life shows four personalities leaning on each other and intertwined in harmony.

Cinderella showcases a spectacular large metal shoe, while “jigsaw puzzle” depicts two pieces of a black and white puzzle that are interconnected and completely intertwined.

The elegant curator of the exhibition Nour Salman had worked tirelessly on arranging the location, which was unique for art projects in Syria she told The New Arab: “I was ecstatic that Safaa spoke to me and trusted me with this [project], after working on it for one year, it was scary to make something of this quality. Finding the location was difficult, as the pieces were too big and we needed something eccentric space-wise.

"The themes spoke to me as I daydream a lot, all the time, every day I think about things that I want to do in the future, this exhibition is very special to me also because it’s my first independent work as a solo art curator,” she added.

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“I try to create something new in the art scene in Syria, hopefully, it will open more doors for us, we have many talented artists in the country, and it’s bustling with great potential, I sincerely hope we can grow it day by day. What also helped us is that Safaa’s works are different, it’s out of the box, something unique, she dares to be different and we have similar personalities, her work is moving as an artist as well. It fills me with so much joy to see people coming back regularly to see the art exhibition, it makes it all worth it.”


A post shared by Safaa Alset (@safaaalset)

Safaa uses many different materials for her pieces, but on this occasion, plexiglass was utilised as it was more appropriate for an abstract and modern style.

Al-Set was born in Homs in 1974 and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts at Damascus University in 1997. She is famed for using an array of diverse techniques to express her talents from media reels to photography to metal sculptures, divulging into topics from tragedy, death, and women's struggles especially.

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Joumana Mortada, a Syrian artist who visited the exhibition, was mesmerised by the works: “We were all as artists eagerly anticipating Safaa al-Set’s solo exhibition, as her last work in Damascus was many years ago, the larger pieces constructed gave a really powerful edge along with the unique location [in a private house].

“It’s a new theme, a new concept, something that hasn’t been done like this before here, the expressions of her dreams through the pieces were particularly special, and it was eye-catching, and as a Syrian sculptor she provides an important inspiration for us as artists, to learn new ideas and metal works especially are hard to make.”

The next step for the Daydreaming exhibition is to export the project to other areas of the Middle East, namely the UAE and Lebanon.  

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