It is rare for an artist from the Middle East to achieve global acclaim, yet Tammam Azzan’s name has appeared in all of the world’s major newspapers and blogs over the last couple of weeks – all for a golden kiss.
Reaching his hand down to squeeze the hearts of passive observers in a way that no grisly news report has been able to do, the Syrian artist’s recent transposition of Gustav Klimpt’s iconic “The Kiss” on a war-ravaged building in Syria has mobilized scores of global citizens, while at least one million residents and refugees continue to suffer amid one of the worst humanitarian disasters the world has ever hidden from.
Azzan’s “Freedom Graffiti” is the latest installation in his series entitled “Syrian Museum,” in which he explores the ongoing horror in his native country. Born in Damascus in 1980, he currently works and lives in Dubai.
The New York Times reports that the series blends works by Western masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Henri Matisse, Goya and Picasso, with recent photos of Syria’s devastated cityscapes, in an effort to draw comparisons between “the greatest achievements of humanity with the destruction it is also capable of inflicting.”
The original gilded painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt comprised a call for universal love. It was partially inspired by a line in Schiller’s Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s 9th symphony “The Kiss is for the Whole World” and depicts a pair of lovers in a rapturous embrace.
It was enormously popular in 1908, contrary to many of Klimpt’s previous pieces, and still resonates with viewers more than a century later.
Graffiti has played a central role in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Artists in Amman, Cairo and Tunis defy tradition with often daring pieces that assuage the turbulent consciousness of the region’s youth, who face continued poverty, food scarcity, violence and environmental destruction.
But none has borrowed so boldly from the west to drive home a point.