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Issam Kourbaj – Downing College, UK

2 Mar — 26 May 2024


2 March – 26 May 2024

Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm – 5pm

For Issam Kourbaj, home means many things. It is the womb, skin, or clothes as much as it is a tent, a house, or a nation. A safe vessel for consciousness to make the passage through life. Like exiles and émigrés everywhere, Kourbaj has had to redefine ‘home’ for himself whenever he has felt the old definitions shift. Home, in one conventional sense, is Cambridge, where, since 1990, Kourbaj has lived, practised, and raised a family. Home is also Syria: Suweida, where he was born, and Damascus, where he painted the city gates across the Barada river. Like millions of migrants, Kourbaj is always away from home, even when he is at home – there is always another place of belonging. In Kourbaj’s case, this other home – the first home – is lost behind the shroud of war. While he works in the studio behind his Cambridge home, Kourbaj makes the journey back to Syria, daily, with his hands.

The exhibition at The Heong Gallery assembles works spanning the thirteen years of the ongoing Syrian conflict, responding to the trauma of displacement and migration. It explores the dual loss of exile, the loss of home as well as the loss of self.

A concurrent exhibition of work by Issam Kourbaj is taking place at Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. A new publication will explore the themes and artworks in both exhibitions. ‘You are not you and home is not home’ is curated by Prerona Prasad.

About Issam Kourbaj

Issam Kourbaj was born in Syria and trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and at Wimbledon School of Art. Since 1990, he has lived and worked in Cambridge, where he has been artist-in-residence, a Bye-Fellow and a lector in Art, at Christ’s College.

His work has been widely exhibited and collected, and most recently it was featured in several museums and galleries around the world: The Fitzwilliam Museum, the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge; the British Museum and the V&A, London; Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Penn Museum, Philadelphia; Brooklyn Museum, New York; the 2019 Venice Biennale and the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

Dark Water, Burning World is in the permanent collection of the Pergamonmuseu, Berlin, and the British Museum. For the BBC’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects,’ Neil MacGregor (the former Director of the British Museum) chose Dark Water, Burning World as the 101st object.

(Biography: Kettle’s Yard. Video: making of Issam Kourbaj, We have on this earth what makes life worth living, 2023-4. Copyright the artist)

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