Laboratory of Arts Programme 2023 - 2024: Supported Projects

Cinema and Animation 

Khalel Sarhel – A Life of Nothing

A Life of Nothing is a subjective documentary film in the essay genre that delves into the lives of individuals with special needs in a country facing a myriad of challenges and hardships. The film intimately explores the psychological landscape of its main character, revealing the multifaceted and intricate dimensions of people with special needs—physically, psychologically, and socially.

Malak Al Shanawany – Sabah

Sabah is a documentary film that explores the captivating story of Sabah, a charismatic individual who challenges societal norms by pushing the limits of her conservative community into accepting her distinctive appearance and behaviour. Despite her triumph in this regard, Sabah continues to grapple with her endless quest for love and other emotional yearnings. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the ongoing economic crisis in Syria, laying bare the persistent resistance of her surrounding community to the unique layers of her character and aspirations. While Sabah struggles to confront her challenges in a pragmatic way, she nevertheless finds solace in her romanticism and the genuinity of her intentions, allowing for a sense of hope to prevail.

Qusay Al Shihaby – Scattered Pieces

Scattered Pieces is a documentary film that follows Jamal's poignant quest to find his brother’s grave amidst a sea of fragmented tombstones. Concurrently, we witness Amal's journey as she attempts to adapt to her decision to return and reside in the previously destroyed Yarmouk refugee camp. The documentary seeks to reconstruct other dispersed elements buried within the human psyche, such as the profound ties to place, be it a neighbourhood or a home. It delves into the intricate interplay between the individual and collective memory of the camp's residents, examining the impact on the place and on them respectively. 

Visual Arts 

Iyyas Chahine – Returned 67: Liberating a Memory and Restoring a Place

A multimedia artistic project rooted in the historical context of 1967, commonly referred to as "the year of setback" or "exodus." The project's primary objective is the restoration of a decimated and occupied village, specifically "Ayn Fit" in the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Using a participatory and multimedia approach, the project engages the memories of village residents to extract visual details of their former lives. By superimposing family photos, the project constructs a collective public document of the village's pre-1967 state. This visual reconstruction serves as a testament to the village's existence, even though it has since been erased from platforms such as Google Maps.

Sulafa Hijazi – What is Not Said or Seen

A multimedia art project that delves into the theme of mystery, exploring various layers of expression through diverse artistic and interactive forms. The project poses a thought-provoking question: Can a profound comprehension of the secrets we harbour enrich our self-awareness and deepen our understanding of ourselves? Through a comparative exploration of the concept of secrets in different societies, the project aims to provide an insight into diverse cultural identities. By doing so, it seeks to foster an understanding of the complexities within post-immigration societies.

Tammam Alomar – Armed Realms

The photography exhibition and accompanying art booklet offer a glimpse into the artist's connection with the cities he has fled from, passed through, or settled in. Through a unique lens, the project showcases urban spaces and environments, depicted in the form of military weapons. Each visual is complemented by personal narratives, providing an insight into the transformative journey of the artist's various places of origin. These stories narrate experiences of violence, destruction, and hope, witnessed by the artist and others who have shared these spaces. The memories encapsulate both an emotional release and, at times, a haunting legacy for the artist.

Creative Writing

Ayman Alahmad – War in C10H8 Format

In this book of twelve stories, subtitled "About Professions Brutalized by War," the narratives seek to illuminate the shadows cast by the war in Syria on individuals within specific professions living on the fringes. Each story unveils dreams that metamorphose into nightmares, portraying the human paradox that challenges the loftiest of values. The collection delves into the pervasive feeling of nothingness and existential anxiety. Amidst the rubble, the stories also carve out space for the enduring and timeless theme of love.

Laila Alhalabi – Ascetic Walls

In this work of fiction, the narrative unfolds from the early 1940s to the present day, following the journey of a journalist whose professional career is nearing its end. Engaged in creating a documentary film centred around a photographer with a remarkable career, the journalist is compelled to revisit her own personal archive, an introspective journey that leads her to confront the voids in her past. As the journalist constructs the documentary, drawing from the photographer's life events, she finds herself crafting an archive of her own. 

Tammam Hunidy – How to Get Home

This new book of poetry embarks on a profound exploration of a seemingly simple childlike question embedded in its title. Throughout the chapters and poems, the author delves into the profound impact of home on the lives of those who, like the writer, have experienced forced displacement and exile. The central theme revolves around the universal and specific question: How do exiles find their way back to their homes? 

Performing Arts 

Bissane Al Charif – Dressing Room

The performance delves into the intersection of wrinkles and politics, contemplating the changes that shape the female body amid prolonged crises. Against the backdrop of violent transformations between two languages and cultures, the show explores the dual nature of theatre—a fundamental paradox mirroring our bodies. It grapples with the idea of residing in one place to evoke, ponder, and remember another.

Osama Halal – Killer1 Killer2

A theatrical performance that explores the plight of marginalized characters in Shakespeare's works, shifting seamlessly into a contemporary discussion on political crime and assassinations in the region. The stage becomes a platform proposing a vision of justice for unknown killers. Instead of being hidden figures following orders, they are given names and embodied as witnesses on a critical journey towards justice. 

Sarah Almoneem – Do Moments of Fear Live in Our Bodies?

In this kinetic performance, narratives of security in Syria and Lebanon are deconstructed, highlighting moments of fear in these geographically adjacent regions. The body becomes a focal point, constantly threatened by the spectres of the past, present, and future. It reverts to its primal nature, drawing on animalistic methods of defence and survival. 


Omer Alkilani – Guitars Orchestra

The Musical Project for the Refugee Guitar Orchestra in Istanbul is a remarkable artistic initiative featuring over sixty refugee musicians. With the goal of creating musical pieces for the orchestra, the project not only supports musical expression but also actively works towards building trust and fostering social integration among the participants. The overarching artistic message emphasizes the significance of unity, peace, and mutual understanding. 

Osama Al-Imam – Daily Tales

An album comprising of six original songs, Memoirs emerges as a creative expression of emotional and human experiences derived from the enduring impact of war and recurring conflicts. Each song presents new ideas in terms of its lyrics, melodies, and arrangements, weaving together a unique tapestry of audio-visual accumulations. These compositions delve into the profound and moral repercussions of the depicted situations and events. Through music, Memoirs endeavours to amplify important issues stemming from the complexities of war, emphasizing the need to express and highlight these narratives and make them heard.

Safana Bakleh – Syrian Rituals

This choral musical project is a journey comprising of ten sequential movements, each set to a text crafted specifically for this work. The text is carefully translated into Arabic and Syriac Aramaic, and seeks to encapsulate the intense emotional essence of the Syrian experience, intertwining both languages to connect with the multiple deep layers of the region's history. The project aims to foster a profound connection with the collective subconscious of Syria, an accumulation of experiences and emotions that span thousands of years. 

Jury Members:

Cinema and Animation: Lina Al-Abed (Palestine/Syria), Nadia Kamel (Egypt), Raed Andoni (Palestine/France)

Visual Arts: Etab Harib (Syria/America), Muhammad al-Roumi (Syria/France), Nour Asalia (Syria/France)

Creative Writing: Hazem Al-Azmeh (Syria/France), Miral Al-Tahawy (Egypt/Canada), Odai Al-Zoubi (Syria/Sweden)

Performing Arts: Fouad Hassan (Syria), Mariem Guellouz (Tunisia/France), Roger Assaf (Lebanon)

Music: Amr Okba (Egypt/Austria), Ghalia Ben Ali (Tunisia/Belgium), Mohamad Osman (Syria)

Jury Statement:

The project selection process unfolded across two stages, with the five jury panels convening for the second stage in October and November 2023 to finalize the selection of supported projects. The panels noted several noteworthy aspects during the project evaluation:

Cinema and Animation Category:

The jury grappled with the challenging task of evaluating the projects, given their significant diversity in terms of project completion stages and artistic forms. The sheer variety of artistic forms further added complexity to the assessment. Compounded by the substantial number of projects reaching the second stage, each deserving of support, the jury faced the delicate task of cross-comparison. The jury found pleasure in exploring the work of a new generation of directors who readily departed from the strict cinematic trends of past decades. These directors raised thought-provoking questions and doubts, surpassing the readily available answers and solutions. The projects carried a substantial dose of contemplation and poetry, leaving the jury hopeful that they would navigate their way towards maturity, resulting in promising cinematic endeavours.

Visual Arts Category:

The Visual Arts Category jury commended the innovative and promising ideas and themes presented in the advanced projects. While recognizing their great potential, a notable proportion also lacked a certain clarity regarding their feasibility for on-the-ground implementation or the degree of interconnectedness between presented models and the project's aspirations. The prevalence of multimedia projects, installations, and artistic installations over traditional plastic arts such as photography, sculpture, and engraving was also noted. The jury encourages artists to explore new artistic tools and spaces, emphasizing the importance of not prioritizing them at the expense of the project's subject matter and goals.

Creative Writing Category:

The Creative Writing Category jury examined several outstanding literary projects marked by a considerable amount of enthusiasm in exploring literature as a means of expressing the worlds of creative writers. These projects prompt a contemplation of literary production both in and outside Syria, where writers in Syria often focus more on concerns, issues, and difficulties of daily life. Meanwhile, other projects demonstrate a significant attachment to the homeland, expressing nostalgia and a persistent desire to evoke it. The novel remains the dominant literary genre in advanced projects, a trend not exclusive to contemporary Syrian literature. A clear inclination towards documenting, revisiting archives, and relying on real facts and events in constructing literary works was noted. While many topics aligned with prevailing themes from the past decade, the jury also encourages creative writers to explore new tools and spaces, steering clear of the directness that characterizes a substantial number of projects.

Performing Arts Category:

The jury faced a significant challenge in selecting supported projects due to the notable disparity between the experiences of male and female applicants. Priority was given to projects that extended beyond construction, offering detailed models and information about the form and mechanism of project implementation. The boldness and enthusiasm of all project applicants was evident, with projects expounding an explicit focus on subjective questions and personal daily concerns. However, the committee observed a decline in direct engagement with collective issues prevalent in the region. The jury encourages a deeper exploration of the practical aspects of projects during presentations, advocating for visual and theatrical solutions in addition to purely abstract and theoretical ideas.

Music Category:

The musical projects evaluated by the jury exhibited a remarkable diversity, posing a challenge in assessing projects across different musical genres such as rap, classical and oriental music, individual albums, orchestral, and choral projects. While project quality varied, there was a common tendency towards innovation and the exploration of unconventional themes and frameworks. The jury encourages entrepreneurs who did not receive support to persist in their work, recognizing promising talents deserving of visibility. Many projects addressed the contemporary concerns of Syrians, both in and outside the country. However, on the whole classical music seemed to receive less attention, despite its crucial role in the overall development of the music sector. The jury recommends that applicants provide practical and applied models of their projects to offer a realistic portrayal of their work.

This edition of the Laboratory of Arts Programme was made possible with support from the Ford Foundation, Goethe-Institut, and the Refugee Leadership Resource Initiative (RRLI), in cooperation with the Mamdouh Adwan Publishing and Distribution House.


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