Giath Taha is a Syrian photojournalist. He took part in a seminar last week at IMMA where he showed photos of the Syrian conflict juxtaposed with quotes from George Orwell’s war memoir: Homage to Catalonia.
The Orwellian quotes might just as well have been written about Aleppo.
Indeed, this was the point. Whether describing the Spanish civil war (Orwell) or a present day war, the same issues arise every time. Such a powerful presentation.
This seminar took place in the context of the exhibition: Brian Maguire, War Changes its Address: The Aleppo Paintings. The author and Irish Times journalist Paddy Woodworth gave a presentation comparing and contrasting the Spanish and Syrian civil wars and Colm Laighneach (Member of Hidden Voices, an international conflict resolution body) spoke about underlying issues in geopolitics. It was chaired by the journalist Susan McKay. I don’t think I’ve ever been at such a moving and thought-provoking seminar.
Maguire visited Aleppo in 2017. As always, his work is informed by first-hand experience and fuelled by the desire to see beyond the news coverage. His paintings of crumbling, bombed-out buildings bear witness to the human suffering brought about by war. A voice crying in the wilderness.
More broadly speaking, the seminar asked: What can Art do in a war situation? Some people just throw up their hands and say: shur I can’t do anything… But we can’t just ignore the story. As Colm Laighneach said: nobody is neutral – by remaining silent we acquiesce.
A member of the audience said: When I see Brian’s paintings I just can’t ignore it any longer. We have to be aware, to become more aware.
The thing to remember, according to Paddy Woodworth, is that things are never black and white. There are many competing forces involved.
I was involved in the anti-war marches before the invasion of Iraq. For some years back then, my art was all about it (for instance, see above). It wasn’t very popular (to put it mildly) to be making such political and uncompromising art.
But Brian Maguire opened my exhibition in the Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely and that was very much appreciated.
These days, I reckon that art with a political focus is more accepted – more in fashion, perhaps? Is it because there is more trouble in the world nowadays or is it simply that we’ve become inured to it?
But as regards the art, the work must be able to stand alone as art. If it’s good, you don’t need to know the back story to appreciate it (although it usually deepens your appreciation).
The photos of Giath Taha are powerful. They show us the humanity, the pathos and the tragedy of war. They compel us to re-engage.
I’d love to hear your views in the Comments section below.