Art is a totally subjective field. You can never be guaranteed that everyone will like what you create because we all have different tastes. Let’s be honest, not everyone thinks the Mona Lisa is all that great; it’s actually a pretty small painting and some people just don’t see what all the fuss is about. You really only like it because it’s famous. It’s like Paris Hilton, except no one likes her.
Art is fraught with criticism, from minor to harsh. Artists have been subject to more than just verbal abuse when it comes to their medium of expression. Ai Weiwei was recently arrested in China for what has deemed “offensive” artwork over the course of his career. The controversy surrounding printing the image of the Prophet Mohamed in cartoons was met with violent responses in some cases. And now Syrian artist Ali Ferzat will be joining the ranks of such illustrious dissent.
Political cartoonists are supposed to be opinionated and, at times, offensive. Ferzat’s work adheres to this criteria, which is why he got horribly beaten for a piece about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A few months before protests broke out, Ferzat was drawing caricatures but didn’t dare render a recognizable political figure. His art was based on real people but the work didn’t accurately resemble them, distancing his art (and himself) from harm.
Ferzat’s own discontent with the stagnant rhetoric of change urged his art to take the next step. He began to visibly portray President Assad in his drawings, and that’s when he began to feel the force of security pushing back. One cartoon displays Assad attempting to join a getaway car with Colonel Muammar Gadafi. Another shows the small, lanky President flexing into a mirror that reflects a much more powerful image back. This expression against state repression came at a high price. Ferzat was severely beaten by pro-regime thugs, who targeted his hands, leaving him unable to draw for sometime.
Still, Ferzat insists that the past year has been a crucial turning point for Syrian art, describing it as a revolution in response to protest. “It’s released a new creativity among ordinary people—allowing them to speak and express themselves in ways they never could before,” Ferzat stated. And despite the forceful response to his and others’ work, he believes that the fear people associate with Syria is non-existent inside the state itself. He says that it’s those in the diaspora who are crippled by fear, whereas those within Syria are free of such an onus, knowing that revolution is possible.
Change is almost never a tidy process—you need to make a mess to truly enact a difference. Such is Ferzat’s feelings towards revolution, stating that there is no need to be afraid of the ways change will occur. This is truly a commendable approach to progress, and a statement for artists everywhere to appreciate.
Codi Hauka is a fifth year International Relations student with a minor in History at the University of British Columbia, and a connoisseur of pies. She aspires to become a journalist, or, failing that, the heir to the Colbert Report. You can follow Codi’s work at The Magpie, a fake news blog she coordinates with an esteemed colleague and friend. The website is in the midst of a facelift, so please forgive its current 1990s level of visual appeal.