If you look at the drawing, which is that silent poetry, you will find the truth marked for you.
Sheikh Mohamed Abdou (March 18, 1904)
As we reflect on the fifth anniversary of a defining moment in our history, Cairo-based surrealist painter Yasser Rostom sheds light on different aspects of the current geopolitical events. Featuring a new body of work in Doves and Crows, Rostom mixes literalism with symbolism to create layers of meanings and accentuate the ills afflicting the region and the hopes that could salvage the peoples. To an artist born in 1971, the Arab Spring, a term that inspired hope and change, provides the space to rethink our national identity/identities and ponder on what might come next. Using symbols from his studies in ancient Egyptian art, personified animals, and iconic visuals from neighboring countries, Rostom constructs a witty and surreal socio-political tale in search of answers.
The dove and the crow, two birds adopted as icons of peace and power, appear on Rostom’s intricate works on paper and reveal his paranoiac-critical method of decoding the present for greater artistic creativity. To millions, the defenseless doves are a symbol of peace. On the other hand, the cunning crow is the symbol of the dark and terrible night or the necessary opponent.
In our continued quest for peace and religious tolerance, Yasser Rostom reminds us of the confused state in which hope and despair seem to blur. In honoring one of the founders of Egyptian Surrealism of the 1940s, Rostom stays true to Ramses Younan’s statement that art presents itself as the means to liberate the nation.
In Aylan, an homage to the 3-year old Syrian boy who perished on the shores of Turkey, Rostom depicts a boat decorated with emblematic mosaic handicrafts. A symbol of the despair of a father keen to escape war-torn Syria, we are reminded of Damascus’s deep-rooted culture that will withstand the test of time.
A common thread in the region, religious fundamentalism, is depicted in Detour in The Name of God, picturing key figures behind the birth of radical thinking. In Brothers, three armed protagonists are playing cards.
Arab Chess shows a dove and a crow playing chess, symbolizing the People on the one hand and the deposed presidents of the Arab nations affected by the 2011 uprisings on the other.
El Nahda (Renaissance), Masr Betfrah (Egypt is Happy), and Egyptian Still Life chronicle respectively Mohammed Ali Pasha, the renowned founder of Modern Egypt; the Suez Canal, the grand project of the 19th and 21st century Egypt and finally, the parliamentary elections as a sign of positive development providing the people with the right to vote. The Gulf Region is the subject of Milk and Dates with its primary source of power, petro-dollars, and A Room with A View inhabited by gazing political figures and the iconic Burj al Arab tower.
Except for Egyptian Still Life, all other works are devoid of any female protagonist – whether deliberate or accidental; it leaves room for pondering. Additionally, in none of the works will we reference the forgotten Palestinian cause.