Writer Issam Hassan: Culture in general experiences a critical situation

The name of the artist, Issam Hassan, has emerged on the Syrian artistic scene as one of the writers whose stories touch the human being, just as his caricatures depict pain and suffering in everyday situations.

Issam Hassan was born in Latakia in 1964 and entered the world of literature as a young man 35 years ago. He has published in several magazines, newspapers, and cultural sites. He has held many exhibitions for his satirical drawings, and has authored several books and cultural activities during the Syrian war.


Talking about his beginnings in writing, artist Hassan said in an interview with the Syria Times e-newspaper:  "I started writing poetry and prose in my teens but my passion for drawing made me stop writing for many years. I felt that I was more free with the lines, colors, and ideas that I used to draw on paper in the form of caricatures that were well received by most of those who saw them at that time, which   encouraged me to continue in this field and what helped me  also, is that  I was born in an educated environment. I live with books, newspapers, magazines and discussions. That is why my work has been characterized by cultural and intellectual concern, as I published a caricatures book in 1997 entitled " It is the less, but significant".  Most of its drawings are centered around this. I held two exhib1itions in 1998, one in the Syrian Arab Cultural Center in Lattakia, and the other in Damascus at the French Cultural Center. Most of the exhibitions' drawings were about culture, thought and intellectuals.


Regarding the artist's experience with journalism, he clarified: “I started in 1985 as I was writing for the Latakia newspaper, Al-Wehda . After that, I wrote  for the Syrian newspaper, Tishreen for a while  before I started my journey outside Syria, where I worked in a number of Arab and foreign newspapers and magazines and held many individual exhibitions, the most important of which was in 2002  in the Syrian Arab Cultural Center, in Paris as part of the "Festival of Foreign Cultures event".

In response to what does Issam Hassan write and to whom does he write? Are his writings affected by the ongoing war in Syria, and in any way? He said: “I write about the human being in general, and about the Syrian man and his memory, culture, customs, traditions, dreams, wishes and disappointments as well. I shed light on the marginal, the one that some think he is marginal, and present him to people. I write about the details of our lives as Syrians; about our reactions to love, anger, fear, and sadness.

I write about all this and others in a simple manner and words which are far from linguistic complexity so that the reader almost thinks that he is reading in the spoken language while the text is written in formal language. I write about what had happened in my country and what is happening, although I do not present this directly. I include it in my writings, and you will see it in most of the stories, I wrote as a background or as a shadow or as a cover for some of the actions that the characters of the stories do, you will not read about the war in my stories but you will touch its effects, and you will smell the  gunpowder, and you will hear people moan even amid their laughter".

Hassan went on to say: "I wanted to say that we are people before any consideration, we are Syrians before sects, confessions and communities , and my entrance to all of this was "love." I found in love the common denominator to all people, and through it I was able to touch the hidden beauty of the minds and souls of Syrians.

I wanted to say also that we love, laugh, dance, get drunk and rejoice as  we are a living people who possess all the elements of life just like all of the peoples of the world. I was defending the common people , the simplicity of living and our right to live, I was defending the rare wild flower that grew on the battlefield and striving not to be run over by the feet of the fighters.

Concerning the books that were issued to him, and how did the Syrian reader receive them, Hassan said : " So far, I have published six books, namely" :On Love and the Mouse of Flour", "Tell us, oh Shahrazad" , "War, Strawberry Jam and God", "The I love you Island", "Love in the House of Fire" and "A kiss for Mariana." It was surprising to me how readers received my books, as the first and second editions of my first book, “On Love and the Mouse of Flour,”  were out of libraries almost within a year, and this is  remarkable  in light of the difficult circumstances that the country was going through when it was published, as well as my second book, “Tell us, oh Shahrazad” is no longer available in libraries, and the same is “War, Strawberry Jam and God.”

In response to question about the difficulties that the writer or cartoonist is currently facing in our Arab world, Hassan stated: "I do not know what is the situation of the writer or cartoonist in the Arab world, despite my belief, that the situation is similar in all Arab countries, but I can say that the difficulties that the creator faces in Syria can be called a real "cultural massacre". The cultural life in Syria is almost dead, and this is not because of the war that has been going on for nearly nine years. The war may have played a role in showing this "death", but the matter is further and more profound, What the war did is that it revealed the  bitterness of  cultural reality".

Hassan added: "I do not deny the existence of creative talents here and there, but they are isolated and fought in some way. What is happening in the whole world , not in Syria or the Arab world only, is a war on culture, art and creativity, a war on beauty, morals and integrity, a war that wants to convert everything into a commodity to be bought and sold, and every people of the world resists this war in its own way and according to its capabilities and historical cultural legacy.

On his aspirations and future plans in the field of writing, artist Issam Hassan stressed: "My personal aspirations are related to the reality of Syria and to the peace that we hope will come soon. My greatest wish today is that Syria will get out of this ordeal and return better than it was. This does not mean that we suspend everything while waiting for that to happen, as I am currently working on publishing a new book that is supposed to be published by Al-Takween Syrian  Publishing House before the end of this year.


By: Amal Farhat