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Dancing in Damascus: an evening with Miriam Cooke

Renowned author and Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University spoke about the importance of art in a revolution

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On 12th July 2017 Miriam Cooke facilitated a fascinating evening of discussion around the poignant themes in her most recent work, Dancing in Damascus: Creativity, Resilience and the Syrian Revolution. The focus of the event was on the importance of art in, what is increasingly being referred to as, the Syrian Revolution of 2011.

In fact, Cooke took particular care in emphasizing that ‘revolution’ was the key influence in allowing this outburst of artistic creativity which has taken Syria by storm. Cooke described how the art that has emerged from Syria depicts a certain feeling amongst, not only Syrians, but the world.

Syria’s future now lies not only in the overturning of Assad’s brutal regime, but in planning for a better, more peaceful and democratic society. Cooke went on to further discuss the significance of Syria’s art explosion in reminding future generations of what the regime is constantly trying to erase — freedom, anger and above all else a yearning for change.

Cooke also spoke about the central themes of her work, Dancing in Damascus, stating that the Syrian revolution has opened a new dialogue in the form of ‘art activism’ something, she argues, is more powerful than constantly trying to appeal to the masses using purely political rhetoric.

The issues that Cooke brought to light are timely and deeply harrowing. For example, the brutalities enacted at Saydnaya prison were discussed, highlighting the atrocious nature of torture resulting in 13,000 deaths from 2011-15.

Whilst both empowering and evocative, Cooke’s discussion seemed to mainly focus on the positive aspects of Syrian art. Little focus was given to the dangers surrounding the careers of artists in Syria — many are imprisoned, or even killed, for producing anything resembling opposition to Assad’s regime. However, when questioned afterwards if Cooke thought that artists risking their lives was really worth defying the regime she responded with an impressive answer — these artists are always in danger. If they don’t sacrifice their lives for their art, then they risk being killed just for existing in Syria. They might as well use their time and talent to produce something meaningful, regardless of the consequences.

So, the evening drew to a close with both the audience and speaker having had their minds tantalized by the intellect and intrigue of the discussion.

Miriam Cooke’s latest book, Dancing in Damascus: Creativity, Resilience and the Syrian Revolution is available for purchase throughout Rethink Rebuild Society’s ‘Celebrating Syria’ festival, alongside a number of other worthy publications.

For details on other events in Rethink Rebuild Society’s ‘Celebrating Syria’ festival visit celebratingsyria.org