Razan Chatti, a set designer and scenographer, is cultivating young talent under the auspices of the Afak (Horizons) foundation, which she launched in 2011.
Through Afak, she organises traveling exhibitions for artists from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, whose works carry powerful humanitarian messages.
Chatti, who is Syrian by birth and Lebanese by marriage, said Afak aspires to present a civilised image of the Arab world by embracing talented artists who would otherwise lack the opportunity.
She spoke with Al-Shorfa about her foundation and future plans.
Al-Shorfa: What is Afak's goal?
Razan Chatti: In 2011, I organised an exhibition for pioneering Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi artists, among them some of my professors and mentors from the University of Damascus. These included professors who had passed away, whose work I wanted to show as a tribute to them. The goal behind the exhibition, which was titled "Afak" and included 24 artists, was to show that art cannot be tied to specific galleries. The exhibition garnered attention in the media and art world, and due to the splash it made, I decided to launch my initiative under the name Afak, because artistic horizon is open and the sky is the limit.
Al-Shorfa: Who does Afak sponsor?
Chatti: Afak is looking for everything new in art, to express the opinion of citizens and shed light on a new notion of art as a message and not as decoration. The goal of the foundation, which does not have its own art gallery, is to introduce artists from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. These artists have approaches and ideas [we believe] must be conveyed, and we give them the space to present their work. [Unlike some galleries we do not] focus on specific names and dim the light on others. Afak embraces all artists whose paintings speak both to the mind and eye.
Al-Shorfa: To what extent are you embracing Syrian artists?
Chatti: I try as much as possible to highlight the bright side of art and literature in the Arab world, not just Syrian art. My goal is to present a civilised and sophisticated image of us, because I feel sad when I see the ugly image of us that has been formed around the world. I wanted to give Syrian artists a helping hand, then realised that all Arab artists need something like Afak because their governments have not taken them under their wing. I seek to lend a hand to artists who cannot find assistance to give them the chance to show their work.
Al-Shorfa: How many exhibitions have you organised?
Chatti: There have been four to date. After "Afak" in 2011, there was "Changes in the Middle East", where artists from Lebanon and Syria presented artwork and sculptures inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, which at the time held optimism and hope for the future. For the third exhibition, I brought together 18 Lebanese artists under the age of 35 who presented spectacular pieces of art, some of which were exhibited in New York City. Their work carried ambiguous, indirect political messages, in a civilised and inoffensive manner. As for the fourth exhibition, it was for Syrian artist Thaer Maarouf at the beginning of this year.
Al-Shorfa: What plans do you have for the future?
Chatti: I am preparing for three exhibitions. The first will include three artists: Lebanese artist Hassan Hussein, Syrian artist Zaven Yousef and a woman Syrian sculptor. I also am preparing for an exhibition that will carry a very strong message with an Iraqi artist who came to Lebanon and has been working on a specific project for the past three months. As for the third exhibition, it will also be a surprise in terms of form, content and the identity of the exhibiting artists.
Al-Shorfa: Will Afak have its own art gallery?
Chatti: It does not have to have its own gallery. I am not about to monopolise artists and will not make this my business. My first and last objective is to educate people and send a message to the world that says we are civilised.
Al-Shorfa: What about organising exhibitions abroad?
Chatti: I hope to show the world our artists' work and this depends on who is willing to give us a showroom to do so.
Al-Shorfa: How do you choose artwork for your exhibitions?
Chatti: I am strict when it comes to judging a painting. I have to be convinced of the quality and style of an artist's painting or the idea they are presenting.
Al-Shorfa: How would you assess the standard of art among younger Arab generations?
Chatti: They are at a superb level. We have fine and talented artists in the Arab world but circumstances are not in their favour. We reside in a spiritual part of the world and the soil of our region breathes culture. Culture is ingrained in us. Old Damascus is an accumulation of culture and civilisation throughout the ages. How do you expect artists not to emerge from this land? Our artists are committed to their humanitarian causes and those of their countries. They are mirrors of their societies.