Naked Cities

Tammam Azzam, Sherif El-Azma, Rabih Mroué

Tammam Azzam: Untitled, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Kornfeld.

Curated by Charlotte Bank and Salah Saouli

Exhibition dates:
21 November – 15 December

NB: Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the exhibition is momentarily closed for personal in-door viewing. We will provide online content throughout the coming weeks and present a selection of videos in the window space of Art-Lab Berlin. Please check this space and our social media channels for updates.

Art-Lab Berlin is pleased to announce the third exhibition of the long-term project Where Have All the Jasmines Gone. The exhibition Naked Cities presents the works of three artists who tackle different aspects of the city as a space that invites dreams and desires, but also represents locations of destruction and death. In their attempt to come to terms with the complexity of the contemporary moment and its crises, they invite the visitors onto a journey through personal memories, urban experiences and a critical reflection of witnessing.

Watch the presentation on Vimeo:

Charlotte Bank in conversation with Shulamit Bruckstein:

For several years, Syrian artist Tammam Azzam has been creating images of urban landscapes, paintings and collages in an attempt to infuse his memories of destroyed Syrian cities with new life through vibrant colour. Tammam Azzam became widely known in 2013 when a photoshopped image of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss on a destroyed façade became viral. Created as a protest against the ongoing war in Syria, the image was widely believed to be an actual projection and its creator became famous overnight. In the following years, the artist has continued to create images of destroyed buildings, as a way of documenting the devastation, but also as a gesture against forgetting. Being Syrian, Tammam Azzam’s works appear as reflections of the destruction of the towns and cities of Syria. But his cityscapes can actually be located anywhere, each city that has witnessed destruction through war and conflict or as a consequence of a natural catastrophe can be found in these images. Through their colours, they allow the viewer to imagine a new hope, a new life rising from the ruined walls.

Tammam Azzam was born in Damascus, Syria and currently lives in Berlin. He studied painting at the University of Damascus and maintained a successful career as a painter in Syria before the Syrian uprising. In 2011, Tammam Azzam left Damascus for Dubai where he spent the next four years, before relocating to Germany. He works in a variety of media, such as painting, collage and digital images.

Sherif El-Azma’s installation consists of the video, Oh Father of Youths! and a series of maquettes showing different aspects of Cairo, Cairo Out of Perspective. The work was created in 2009, one year before the onset of the “Arab Spring” and addresses some of the problems of the regions’ youth, which led to the widespread protests and upheavals. By taking a critical position towards the ideals of the older generation, the “fathers” mentioned in the title of the video, the work appears like a manifestation of the grievances of young Egyptians, which led to the revolutionary movement of Tahrir Square. For Sherif El-Azma, the city of Cairo is closely related to his own subjectivity and, inspired by psychogeography, takes on a particular, highly personal significance: “It is as if Cairo is my body, and my body is Cairo“.

Sherif El Azma: Cairo Out of Perspective

Sherif El Azma lives and works in Cairo. He studied at the Surrey Institute in London and teaches experimental film at the American University in Cairo. He works across different media, such as video, installation, performance lectures and sound. Ranging from the highly experimental to documentary to riffs on the cinematic, he often explores trajectories of psycho-geography, relations and sexuality in relation to the city. Sherif El Azma’s films have been screened at numerous international venues, and featured in Manifesta, Home Works Forum, and the Sharjah and Venice Biennales.

Rabih Mroué’s Chalk Outlines explores the artist’s ongoing resistance to ways that images of war are circulated and absorbed by the public. Taking images of dead bodies on the streets of Syrian cities found in newspapers as its starting point, Rabih Mroué has entered an intimate and meditative process, drawing the outline of the bodies and thus engaging with each case of a life lost. The result is a very personal reading of recent events and a different, subtle way of processing the everyday atrocities of war. Through some 200 drawings and collages as well as a video, the artist traces the recurring impressions of conflict, creating an homage to the phantom presence of the dead.

Rabih Mroué (Schering Stiftung Award for Artistic Research 2020), born in Beirut and currently living in Berlin, is a theatre director, actor, visual artist and playwright. He is a contributing editor for The Drama Review /TDR (New York) and the quarterly Kalamon (Beirut). He is also a co-founder and was a board member of the Beirut Art Center (BAC). He was a fellow at The International Research Center: Interweaving Performance Cultures/ FU/Berlin in 2013 -2014 and has been a theatre-director at Münchner Kammerspiele (Munich) since 2015.

The exhibition is realized in collaboration with Galerie Kornfeld (Berlin) and House of Taswir (Berlin).

This project is supported by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Berlin.