Courtesy of Ettijahat

A talk on contemporary heritage practice and creative civic responses.

The risk of losing Syria’s rich and diverse heritage, whether through conflict, loss or natural disasters, has mobilised individuals to take action to recover and protect it.

Syrians both inside and outside Syria have taken it upon themselves to research, document and preserve threatened historical and cultural narratives, opening up opportunities for reflection, exchange and learning. Such civic responses have resulted in the creation of a burgeoning number of inspirational projects and initiatives on which the global community can draw.

At present, contemporary practitioners engaged in heritage preservation have not only been redefining the meaning of heritage, but also instigating innovative ways in which heritage, both tangible and intangible, can be protected and made widely accessible.

Importantly such initiatives confront processes of deliberate erasure. They also contribute towards re-thinking what it means to be Syrian today, by bringing about new possibilities for a contemporary collective identity.

Creative responses that recognise and celebrate the diverse cultures and traditions of both ancient and present-day Syria, as well as highlight their contribution to world heritage, not only work towards safeguarding them in the present, but also secure access in the future for generations to come.

This panel event brings together four leading creative producers all of whom have an interest in preserving Syria’s cultural heritage: author and journalist Lina Sinjab, architect and artist Dr. Ammar Azzouz, co-founder of Qisetna Dima Mekdad, and leader of the London Syrian Ensemble, Louai Alhenawi. The evening will also feature a pre-recorded contribution from Damascus-based project, Sandouk Al Hakaya.  

The panel will be moderated by Alia Alzougbi.

Louai Alhenawi is a composer and ney soloist who studied and taught at the eminent Damascus Conservatoire. He is the leader of the London Syrian Ensemble and recently held the position of the Musical Director for the first Arabic Musical Um Kulthum which made its worldwide premiere at the London Palladium. In 2019 he directed The Mediterranean Dimension Ensemble in Malta. He is also Co-Musical Director for Tafahum orchestra , the London Syrian Ensemble and the SOAS Middle Eastern Ensemble. Louai has recorded and toured world-wide with many artists including Fairouz, Shakira, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn, Terry Hall, Gabriel Yared, Natacha Atlas and many others.

Dr. Ammar Azzouz is a London-based architect working at Arup. He is a short-term Research Associate at the University of Oxford. He is an editor at Arab Urbanism, and a collective member of City Journal. Ammar has written several articles which have been published on platforms including The Independent, New Statesman, and The Architects’ Journal.

Dima is the co-founder of Qisetna: Talking Syria, a cultural project which focuses on using storytelling as a tool for personal empowerment, social engagement and cultural heritage preservation. She is also  the co-founder of Zamakan, nomadic, non-profit platform that supports artists, cultural workers and creatives from West Asia and North Africa. Dima wears several hats, among them a scientist, a storyteller and a new writer. Her writings have been published by Palewell Press and the other side of hope.

Lina Sinjab is an independent filmmaker & a BBC Middle East correspondent based in Beirut. She also contributes to several international media outlets and often writes to Chatham House’s ‘Syria From Within’ project. Lina has extensively covered the Syrian uprising since its beginnings in 2011, and continues to follow developments in Syria and the region. In 2014 and 2016 she covered the Syria peace talks in Geneva as the BBC’s world affairs reporter. In 2019 she produced and directed a film on the siege on Aleppo “Madness in Aleppo”. In 2013, she directed a film on Syrian Women during time of uprising ‘Suryyat” which was nominated to One Media Award. In May 2013, she won the International Media Cutting Edge Award for her coverage of Syria. She holds a degree in English Literature, from Damascus University, read law at the Beirut Arab University, and holds an MA in international politics from SOAS, University of London. 

Founded in 2014 in Damascus, Sandouk Al Hakaya is an artist collective focusing on regional popular art forms such as folktales, shadow and puppet theatre, block-stamping and other hand-printing techniques. 

Remaining firmly anchored in the present, they strive to innovate within tradition. By bridging the present with the beauty and wisdom of the past, they perpetuate centuries of generational links that have informed our sense of aesthetics and our psyche, and that are receding by the day under the influx of modern means of communication.

 Since 2017, the group of artist-designers at Sandouk Al Hakaya has gone a long way to reach the results we see today in their hand-printed work (stamps & silkscreen). After spending a consistent initial period of time getting familiar with traditional wood stamping designs and techniques, they proceeded to create their original designs, starting with oriental abstraction, and moving on to floral and animal motifs.

The hundreds of designs they relentlessly produced on various types of fabrics aimed to create pieces that can move the eye, the heart and the mind of their viewer. They were transformed into a plethora of pillows, tablecloth, scarves, and bedspreads. Today, looking at their work, we can assert that heritage and modernity, whose relationship has preoccupied the collective since its beginnings, have organically become one, without any constraints or restrictions.

Alia Alzougbi is Joint CEO of Shubbak. Alia is an award-winning producer, performer and facilitator. She has worked closely with national and international organisations including the British Museum, the National Theatre, Clore Leadership and the British Council to create high-profile, critical encounters that question the parameters of cultural representation and inclusion in education and the arts. Previous to joining Shubbak, she was Head of the cultural learning organisation Global Learning London. She is a Clore Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and she volunteers nationally and internationally to coach and mentor young people with reduced access to opportunities in the cultural industries. She is a recipient of the Writer's Guild Olwen Wymark Award for the encouragement of new writing in 2019 and was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland in 2008.

Part of the London Syrian Arts and Culture Festival (SACF).

This event is presented in partnership with Shubbak, Ettijahat and Zamakan. Part of the Against Disappearance series, supported by the British Council Cultural Protection Fund which is led by the British Council in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.