#51 Khaled Barakeh
Born in 1976 in Damascus Suburb, Khaled Barakeh graduated in 2005 from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, Syria, and completed his MFA at Funen Art Academy in 2010 in Odense, Denmark. He has exhibited at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart; Golden Thread Gallery, Northern Ireland; Kunsthalle Brandts; Ovegarden, Denmark; Smack Mellon in New York City; and many other institutions. Barakeh finished his Meisterschueler with Simon Starling, at the Städelschule Art Academy in Frankfurt am Main in 2013.
MATERIALISED DISTANCE, Installation view, ’MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst – Zollamt, Frankfurt, 2013.
In your artistic practice, which themes and questions are you engaged in?
I come from Syria originally. More specifically from occupied territory of the Golan Heights where the conflict has been going since 1967. The political issues have constantly surrounded me for the most of my upbringing. During my three years of military service in Syria (which was mandatory) I was ordered to paint the president’s picture over and over on the military bases walls! Though it kept me a little bit away from the training of how to use weapons it still left a certain amount of scars on me.
As many artists, I believe there is a large overlap between personal and academic background that feeds into the artistic practice. A lot of my works reference political situations and as such deal with pertinent issues around identity and culture as well as power structures.
Which artist, both deceased and alive, do you feel related to?
One of my favorite artists of all the time is Maurizio Cattelan. I love his sarcastic attitude towards serious matters, and how he makes fun of almost everything but remains still sharp-witted and perceptive as well as political on a very personal level.
And if I want to recall a deceased artist the first name inclined to my mind is Yves Klein. Beside the fact that he is an important figure in post-war European art, I suppose I relate to the radical shifts in his life, the way in which he changed the focus of his life completely three times.
TRANSMIGRATIONS, Installation view, District Kunst und Kulturförderung, Berlin, 2013.
What do you do to push your artistic practice in new directions?
For me, art production is not intentional or forced, but rather organic and specific to a given place. New experiences, like walking in the same street or working with new materials always have the effect of leading into new paths. There’s a lot to be said about experiences you gather when geographically moving to new places. The making of work on such travels has a sense of an embodiment of memory attached to that certain time and place.
Without a doubt the two most significant shifts in my life (and thus my practice) has been my move to study and work in Europe, and of course the Syrian revolution and the eventual civil war that is still ongoing.
What characterizes your latest discoveries in your practice? What has it contributed to your artistic expression?
Just as many other Syrians I have been heavily influenced by the revolution that started four years ago. Since the very beginning I was in Damascus involved in the peaceful resistance movement, trying to use art to make real changes on the ground. But as soon as the suppression expanded and the casualties of the revolution rose severely, the role of the responsible artist automatically expands as well. The role of the artist, journalist and activist merged into one, which directed me to communicate through new creative channels so as to be able to attempt to change the narratives that have been told by our suppressors.
In the last while I started expressing collectiveness through individual experience. I’ve had the need to personalize the work so as to let people in to see what a communal situation is like when it very directly impinges on personal life.
New Frankfurt International – Solid Sign, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, 2013.
UNTITLED IMAGES, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, 2013.
What are the specific frames of your day of work? How does your process play out?
I have no clear distinction between personal and professional life since all work is rooted in personal or biographical terms. It often feels like the most pressing and urgent thing demands most of my attention and thus feeds into my work practice.
What does inspiration mean to you? Where do you find it?
Perhaps partly it is due to the where and how I was brought up. I think we are all the result of the conflicts of one sort or another that have irreversibly left their marks on us. The term inspirational seems strange in direct relation to conflict but when I use this term here its really in the expanded sense of personal, psychological as well as political. Art in itself is often a visual expression of an antagonism, and as such just another type of conflict with its possible solutions.
GREATEST HITS, Installation view, The Changing Room, London, 2012.
What do you do when your process is blocked?
Since I don’t want to think of myself as a career factory, I don’t see the use in forcing work when I feel blocked… Whenever it happens there’s usually a reason for it that cant be directly ameliorated through paying more attention to the work process being blocked. I’ll often just concentrate on to-do lists that don’t need too much thought. Also work that is just physical in nature can be a way of reconnecting the mind with the body.
What has recently excited you artistically?
Over the last four years the ongoing events in Syria have put me in the position of witnessing the country reformulating itself anew to the extent that we no longer know it as it was. The country changed not only geographically but there is also a complete transformation of the Syrian society. For me living in Germany I am always thinking of those who are still in Syria or the many others who were forced to leave and to live in exile. There are thousands of stories waiting the right moment to be told.
How would you describe the Danish art scene and how do you personally find yourself within it?
I do not know if I am in a position that allows me to describe the art scene in Denmark as I lived there only for less than three years! I came to Denmark in 2008 to continue my education after studying in Damascus within a very traditional lineage of art making. As an outsider being confronted with more conceptual approaches to art practices, I had to find my way of articulation in a new type of language.
An artist and friend once told me during a conversation about metaphors and allegories, that he metaphorically thought of my art practice as this: “You leave the windows to your house open so that strangers can water your plants when you’re not home”. What would be an allegory for your art practice? I am curious to know how you would describe your artistic method or practice in this way. (Question from #47 Stine Marie Jacobsen)
I never searched for topics rather they came to me. Once they knock on the door, I can’t leave them out. Usually, these topics are considered as historical facts that create stories, which I feel should be told from another perspective.
If I want to draw a line between my previous work, I see most of them as ongoing projects rather than single objects. Like a self-generating creature, the work keeps developing and reshaping itself with open ends, which may also explain why I enjoy the process of making more than the final results: when the work is done it has its own life which is separate to mine.
After saying this, I would be curious to know what allegories that others would apply to my work, too.