Memories of Dead Cities / Syria: exhibition by Issa Touma

The exhibition Memories of Dead Cities / Syria takes us to the streets of Aleppo both before the war and in the midst of a war zone. Opening on Friday, 21 November, 6–8 pm at TR1 Kunsthalle, Tampere.

Issa Touma from Aleppo, Syria, seizes the everyday life in photographs both before the war and in the midst of a war zone. “True stories are on the streets, not in the media,” states the artist. In the exhibition Memories of Dead Cities / Syria the spectre of memory – forgetting and remembering – is not only haunting Syria but the entire globe. It is a reflection on the nature and difficulty of remembering truths in history, politics, culture, art and everyday life in general. Issa’s works make hidden histories, stories and currents of people from Syria tangible – they are seen, thought and heard unlike in the mainstream media. The exhibition will be open until 4 January, 2015. The exhibition is curated by Marita Muukkonen of Perpetuum Mobilε.

North of Syria become a dead zone after the war: 98% of the old town of Aleppo, once one of the biggest living old towns in the world, was taken over after the revolution in 2012. A big part of the old city of Aleppo become part of dead cities like 80 other cities around it. But people still continue their everyday lives and struggles in the midst of the war. Issa calls them the real heroes. These people stand for life, not for the president, neither for the revolutionaries nor for ISIS. Novelist Milan Kundera wrote in his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) that memory is one of an individual’s weapons against the state under oppression.

Issa shows images on the streets of Aleppo before the revolution. This reminds us how memories like real life events are strongly influenced by political, cultural and social forces. The photos show us how individuals are fighting for the monopoly of power and resources always and everywhere.

Each work in the exhibition reflects on the nature of remembering. “You cannot get freedom by lies and you should not forget the truth of history, otherwise there is no solid ground for the future,” says Issa Touma. Strong images, strong words.

Issa Touma curates and produces art at Le Pont, which hosts major art and photography events in Aleppo, Syria. In spring 2012, Le Pont Art Organization initiated the Art Camping workshops, which attempt to counter the violence of the insurgency with artistic interventions around Aleppo.

Issa Touma is currently an artist-in-residence in Suomenlinna, Helsinki, in the frame of the Nordic Fresh Air project, curated by Perpetuum Mobilε and co-organised by HIAP-Helsinki International Artist Programme and PM. The Nordic Fresh Air project has been supported by Nordic Culture Point and the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland.

TALKS with Issa Touma
22 November, 6–9 pm, Restaurant O’Hara’s, Hämeenpuisto 17, Tampere
Music: Vestich, Ruuskanen, Haamu
24 November, 4–6 pm, Tampere Peace Research Institute, Pinninkatu 76, 6th Floor, Tampere
Organised in collaboration with the Finnish Peace Committee

TR1 Kunsthalle
Väinö Linnan aukio 13 / Finlayson
22 November–4 January, 2015
Free admission

Image credit: Issa Touma


Issa Touma is an Artists at Risk (AR) Resident, hosted in cooperation with HIAP at AR-Safe Haven Helsinki. The AR-Network is curated by Perpetuum Mobile (PM) and is coordinated by the AR-Secretariat, co-funded by Kone Foundation. This residency is funded by Nordic Culture Point, as part of the Nordic Fresh Air project, and the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland.