Last month I visited a refugee centre in Amsterdam to meet up with Oussama Diab, a well-known Palestinian painter who has been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the Middle East and has been honoured for his work with several awards.
Born from Palestinian parents in 1977 in Syria, his life is already marked by fleeing wars and finding new homes. His parents were displaced from their own house at the time of the Nakba. He and his family even lived in Lebanon a couple of years. As the situation in Syria worsened, the artist had to flee again. In search of a ‘better’ living he sought refuge in the Netherlands a year ago and left his wife and their three-month old son in Damascus. Just two days ago before our meeting, they told him his application for asylum has been refused.
In Amsterdam he’s still completing his new artworks for his solo exhibition at the Pedrami Gallery in Antwerp. It’s Katy Pedrami, gallery owner of Pedrami, who contacted Diab. ‘I found out on Facebook that he was in Amsterdam. He is such an important artist. His work has even been sold by Christies. I had to meet him’. After the meeting they agreed to work together. Pedrami wants to help Oussama Diab through the new exhibition and get his story known. In Syria he worked more than nine years with Ayyam gallery, one of the most prominent galleries in the Middle East.
The artist calls his new solo show ‘Black and White Memories’. The exhibition features paintings and selected drawings, mixed-media collages, sketches that demonstrate how his new series has progressed with recurring symbols and a cohesive narrative. A very personal work that collects his memories about the past and visions of the future. “My exhibition, I want to tell something about my parents. How to find good things in life. But is hard en difficult. When I lived in Syria, I had nice memories, but at the same time also bad memories. The bad memories because of the war and violence. I have seen a lot. I lot of death, suffering and pain in Syria. I draw these memories.” Diab wanted to make good memories because of his son. “Now I can draw something nice. I try to draw my future, and for my son. That’s why I draw flowers, some positive things.”
Diab takes us to the basement of the refugee centre. He can use the basement as his atelier. I see a very large-scale canvas hanging against the wall with a surrealist view of an olive tree, a falling bird, a cloud, a light bulb, a hand and a window. “Good memories like this olive tree. The olive tree is respected by Palestinian people. It means peace. We have a lot of olive trees. I like to draw this in real sizes. It creates strong feelings.”
Oussama Diab then shows me some artworks in his room. Like a painting of a horse strapped in a corner with bouquet of flowers hanging from the ceiling. “The horse is very important for people in the Middle East. It symbolizes freedom. We really want to go back to Syria but we can’t.” Diab explains that the natural elements represent good things. In every place you have the same elements. It’s our traditions, our life in Syria.”
His artworks eradiate a surrealist vibe. “My work is very surrealism. But also realism and cubism. I like to give it a strange atmosphere. I put my character together”
For the large-scale paintings the artist uses a colour palette of black, white and a splash of colour. “My exhibition is entitled ‘Black and White’. I want to use these colours, but I want also to show positive colours, like pink. For a balance between good and bad memories.”
With this exhibition Oussama wants to draw attention to his personal situation. While he is trying to search a better place for his family. “I fled Syria and my father did the same before. I want to change this for my son. I want a better future for my son.”
Black and White memories runs at Pedrami Gallery, Antwerp from 22 September till 30 October.