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The National

Damascenes, Khaldoun Chichakli

Installation view at Green Art Gallery, Dubai, 2015

When he was a boy, Khaldoun Chichakli would run into the fields on the outskirts of Damascus to draw, away from the prying eyes of his mother, teachers and friends.

They all ridiculed his passion and told him he had no future in art. He persevered, however, and studied at the Fine Arts University in Damascus, where he now teaches.

Up until 2011, Chichakli says he was “a prolific artist, drawing 12 hours a day, seven days a week”, but this productivity was halted with the onset of tensions in his beloved Syria. Now, the professor says, he is “unable to draw and instead draws with words”, which has resulted in him writing his autobiography.

The book recounts seven decades of life in Damascus, from the French Mandate and independence, to the Ba’athist regime and today’s dismal state of civil war.

Chichakli’s life has included a stint in Belgium where, while pursuing higher studies, he met and married his wife and learnt the art of diamond carving. It is a craft that has come to inform his work, particularly the intricacies of his woodcuts.

An enchanting body of his work, produced between 2000–07, is on show at Green Art Gallery until the end of June. It is imbued with a heavy dose of nostalgia and, for Dubai audiences, is an anomaly in style – not conceptual, minimalist or abstract. Simply, it is a charming painterly exhibition layered with narratives.

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