Lecture: An illustrated talk by Syrian-born visual artist, Issam Kourbaj

Wed, February 15, 2012 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Doors open at 6:30pm

Tickets: $5 (free for students, seniors, & Alwan members)

In this presentation, Issam Kourbaj will trace his long journey as an artist from early childhood in Southern Syria to family life in Cambridge, U.K., and will suggest the influences that various stops along the way have had on his work.

These include student sojourns in Damascus, in Russia (Leningrad- St Petersburg) and in London. Life as an artist has taken him from Azerbaijan to Mexico, and he has been rewarded with a succession of exhibitions, and by the reception of works into public collections, including that of the British Museum. Last autumn and winter he contributed to the exhibition Modern Syrian Art; this was the Museum’s contribution to Shubbak, London’s first-ever celebration of contemporary culture from across the Arab world.
His work often reclaims found objects that have exhausted their usefulness; a tricycle, mangled and cut-up chairs, and a broken pool-cue, old hardback book-covers, a complete set of the Ninth Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica turned into a quite different sort of graphic book, often reflecting Arabic calligraphy in its resourceful use of marks. The University city of Newton, Milton, Hawking and Martin Rees in which he now lives has found him preoccupied, for the last few years, with the properties of optics and light, and with the idea of the Camera Obscura. Contacts and discussions with working archeologists have introduced the metaphor of layered excavation to his paintings, drawings and assemblages- the desire to search beneath the surface of our shared physical environment.

Issam Kourbaj, born in Syria in 1963, was a child calligrapher and signwriter. On moving from his city to Damascus, his ambition was to be a fine artist, but horizons changed, first toward architecture (in Leningrad) and then, in London, to theatre design, both of which disciplines continue to inform his working practice. He found his feet- and came to rest- in the English University city of Cambridge from 1990; he is currently affiliated, as Lector in Art, to Christ’s College, helping academic students to discover their visual voice.

As a working artist, Kourbaj exhibits widely and enjoys entering public art competitions. He is as fully at ease collaborating with astronomers, engineers and archaeologists as with dancers, poets and playwrights. When Cambridge’s English Faculty staged an all-day reading, in 2008, of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book 1, Kourbaj’s installation “Liquid Fire” was commissioned as its visual manifestation.

For the University’s 800th birthday Celebrations he designed the set for “Light Matters”, a contemporary dance piece presented in the Senate House, as well as a “transforming” portable set for “Let Newton Be!” a play about the founding father of modern physics, which toured university campuses in the UK and USA.

As further contribution to the University’s eighth centenary celebrations, his “Cambridge Palimpsest”, a puzzle-box linking time and archaeology, was chosen for publication by the Cambridge University Press. Among Kourbaj’s speculative publication is the chapter “Magic and Poetry -'Eye' and Other Magic Moments” contributed to “The Art and Craft of Pedagogy”(Richard Hickman, Continuum Books, ISBN: 9781847062901) published in the USA in November 2011 and launched in Cambridge University’s Education Faculty in December 2011.

Last updated: 2012-02-15 15:20:21

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