Friday March 30th | Interview with Syrian artist Khaled Akil | Published Under Caspian Arts Foundation

The Skull
With all the chaos and terror going on in the Middle East, one can't but help be taken away by the outflow of art work coming from Syria. With powerful imagery and symbols of what people have to endure on a daily basis is surely going to stay with us for some time to come. This is what is making the Middle Eastern art world move, how the artists are at the forefront risking their own lives to speak for their people. I recommend anyone interested in politics, the Arab spring and contemporary art to visit the current exhibition at Lahd Gallery in London to see Khaled Akil's 'The Unmentioned' based on the current social and political issues in Syria. Caspian Arts Foundation is very proud to support Khaled Akil and his work and to have him speak with us about life as an artist in Syria today.

CAF: You are currently living and working in Aleppo with what the current situation is in Syria, how difficult is it to work as an artist there now? What are your circumstances and how do you go about your work and in keeping yourself and your surroundings safe?
K.A.: As artists we all suffer from dictatorship regimes in our normal daily lives. You can imagine then what the situation is now. I mean art became a weapon that threatens the regime and the anti-regime as well, it is not acceptable from both parts because art reveals the truth and takes off all the masks and lies which politics is based on…
CAF: Many Syrian artists, like yourself, are now using their art form as a platform to reach to the outside world. What are the messages you are conveying through your work, what issues (both social and political) are you addressing, and what is it you want the readers to know and understand through them?
K.A.: To be a real artist and not a “Just Looking for Profit” artist is to have an idea that you defend with your art works. It is simply having a duty regarding your society and your country … that is why. Translating the three taboos in our society into art works is my duty in order to break all fears and raising religious, social and political awareness. Syria with all its contradictions has had the most misunderstood reputation in the world. In my opinion Syria should not be represented in “Harem” or “Veil” nor “Suicide attacks” and “Terrorism” and never “Al Assad” or “Syrian National Council”. Syria is richer than that, it is not "simple" or easily grasped. You have to live in Syria with all its details to understand the secrets behind it. I try to help my audience with my artworks to live all these details, as I normally focus on ideas and details.

CAF: I saw your exhibition ‘The Unmentioned’ at Lahd Gallery and was very taken away with some of the pieces, most of which are very powerful and moving. Many of the pieces I saw on display did not show faces. Even the Sufi dancers’ heads & faces are covered up, you only get a glimpse of their body, or in one image a man holding a human skull. What is the reason behind this?
K.A.: The answer is very simple. I believe that faces lie and that is why we tend to cover them either with 'Make up', 'Veil', 'Masks' and 'Yellow smiles'. The human body reflects the soul in its strengths and weaknesses while our faces reveal what we want to be revealed.

CAF: You are a self-taught artist, how did you come into photography, and what drew you to it in the first place?
K.A.: To tell you the truth it was my grandfather who had the biggest influence on my choice (into becoming an artist). During my childhood, my hobby was to try his cameras (he had more than 20 of them) and his equipments. At the age of 16 I got my first “film” camera as a present from him on the occasion of my birthday and he taught me all the techniques and details on how to use it and when. On the other hand, my father, Youssef Akil who is one of the few “first generation” painters in Syria, has been a great help in raising my artistic sense as I learned that art becomes a way of life, a different perspective with which you see and understand and deal with daily events “positive or negative.” You can easily understand from what I mentioned above the reasons that have objected me away from developing my career as a lawyer, I have a really different way of life, far from the daily complications and routine (that other people have become accustomed to).

(images courtesy of the artist and Lahd Gallery)

March 21st Updated List of MA Courses

New updated list of MA courses for 2012 / 2013. Any questions direct them to For any queries regarding your application direct them to Student Funds on + 44 (0) 20 7514 6146

Follow us on twitter @CaspianArts for instant updates


MA Digital Arts

MA Printmaking

MA Illustration
MA Fine Art

MA Interior Spatial Design
MA Fine Art

MA Drawing
MA Fine Art

MA Photography

MA Character Animation
MA Fashion Photography
MA Graphic Design

MA Documentary Film

MA Graphic Moving Image

MA Photography

MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography

Friday March 16th - News & Events

A few announcements on Caspian Arts Foundation's website. We will be updating the site over the next few days to make the site easier to use and also to bring more information about the application & guidelines form to our students. With a live twitter feed, there will be instant access to the website and giving information when needed, you can follow us on this now @CaspianArts

What's next?

We are very pleased to announce our next feature,  Syrian artist Khaled Akil, who is currently exhibiting at the Lahd Gallery in London. We are very excited to be showing his powerful and moving works and to be speaking with him about him using his art as a tool to express the life of a Syrian today.

Sanam Khatibi on her current exhibition, 'The Antagonist' | March 9th 2012 | Published Under Caspian Arts Foundation

Whenever You're Ready (April 2010)

This week I am very pleased to speak with young Iranian artist Sanam Khatibi who is currently exhibiting in London for the first time at the Waterside Contemporary gallery. Sanam's work deals with human tragedy, emotions and loss of power & control ... not unfamiliar to our world  today. She presents these works in a very interesting and unique way, naturally guiding us to address the emotions and questions they raise and giving us the space to come to our own conclusions about them. You will see from the interview that Sanam is very passionate about her work and the subject matter at hand but at the same time, even though shocking, there can be healing once the fragility of human life has been exposed.

Congratulations on your current exhibition, The Antagonist, at Waterside Contemporary. I was reading the synopsis to this exhibition, which is about personal loss, political power and the ego, which our world is filled with currently. How do your works fit into that? Is that the intention you had in mind when starting these paintings?
Thank you! The works shown in The Antagonist were mostly done previously and some specifically for the show. I have always been interested by the paradoxical nature of power and the duality in which success and failure are exposed. I am mainly interested by the effects of loss and loss of control which are the prevalent elements in most of my works. It is the emotions that stem from experiencing loss that make us behave in the most peculiar and uncontrolled manner. The works shown at Waterside deal with these subjects.
Artists have that ability to take something personal and make it universal. What draws you to work with human trauma and loss? What is it that inspires you to take that particular event in a human life and transform it into a universal one?
I have always been fascinated by the traumatic experiences that mark a person’s life and how they affect the complexities of human behaviour. In other words, how we interact with the world around us, how such experiences shape our identity and how we pass them on from one generation to the next. Traumatic events, loss and loss of control, generate probably the strongest emotions we as humans go through during our lives. To me, they lead to the most visceral reactions we can have and give way to the deepest instinctive feelings which we have inside. It is a subject that extends out and provokes a different response according to different experiences felt by different individuals.
Your works seem to capture the study of human movement through different forms, especially the series that include “A Spectacular Fall From Grace” and “Whenever You’re Ready”. Is this something that you have been studying and observing and are going to develop further?
A Spectacular Fall From Grace (2010)
This series of work is concerned with the loss of control. It is all about the dichotomy of a controlled act with an aim to succeed, and the act of falling, thus leading to failure.  In “Whenever you’re ready” the jockeys are thrown off their horses hence creating a series of odd movements, confronting each other whilst at the same time constructing a narrative of their own. I like the idea of developing this work further. There is something quite peculiar related to the loss of control which can lead to so many possibilities. In this particular series the act of falling leads to a transformation of movement, touching on an act of splendour whilst at the same time revealing fragility.

I love the work “I can make you happy” and also “I love you so much”, what were the ideas behind these?
Those two works deal with failure in relationships. It is about rendering emotions that are not always ideal. I suppose that they too are also about success and failure, getting what we want and eventually losing it. Every beginning has an end as everything changes...eventually.

There is a wonderful quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “ to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is a great accomplishment”… “always do what you are afraid to do”.  You made a really brave decision to leave your career path in politics and follow your passion into the arts. What advise can you give young people today who are struggling and for whatever reason find it a very daunting task to take that risk and follow their heart. What was that final motivating factor for you to just say this is what I want to do with my life?
It is the best decision I ever took! “Always do what you are afraid to do” I like it! It is not easy to leave security for the unknown, but for me it was essential. I did not want to become a prisoner of the working society doing something I was not passionate about. So many people today live in situations which makes them unhappy. They are afraid to leave what they believe is a form of security. I am not afraid of the unknown, and if I were to give advice, I would say follow your heart – it is one of our most reliable organs. I went to see the Gilbert & George retrospective at Tate Modern a few years ago. When I entered the first room, where they had their charcoal on paper drawings (their best works ever), I decided that was it! In that moment everything became clear – that moment was the final motivating factor.

I Can Make You Happy  (December 2010)

 (All images courtesy of the artist)

Interview with Artist & Calligrapher Everitte Barbee ⎜Published Under Caspian Arts Foundation⎜March 2nd 2012

The arts can be used as a powerful tool to bring people together and bring about awareness to wide ranging issues from nature and love, to war and destruction, to human emotions & human frailty. More importantly, the critical role I feel the arts has to offer, is to give a glimpse of each other’s cultures and through that perhaps we can start to embrace our differences.

This week, we are speaking with Everitte Barbee (biography below). I got to know Everitte by discovering his calligraphy works on Saatchi Online.  I was instantly taken away by them, especially the attention to detail and the sheer beauty that comes through.  I was also very intrigued by how an American artist has portrayed Islamic culture through his work. 
Surah 85 - Map of Palestine

Q. As a non-Muslim, you have 
used a lot from the Quran and you have a work in progress ‘The Quran For Solidarity’. Can you explain a little about this and what it is was that drew you and inspired you to read the Quran and to write the entire book?

E.B.: I’ve wanted to read the Quran ever since ‘Islamophobia’ spread through America following 9-11. Given the number of peaceful Muslims in the world, I knew that Islam must have had very little to do with that attack, despite what many of my xenophobic countrymen would believe. So I wanted to learn what Islam was all about. Having been raised Catholic, I was amazed how similar the Quran and Bible were. I was also drawn to the Quran from an artistic standpoint since Arabic calligraphy as we know it today would not exist without it, due to the sanctity of the written word in Islam and the banning of iconography. More than a thousand years of widespread dedication allowed the various Arabic scripts to become the most beautifully perfected in the history of mankind, all because of the Quran and Islamic society. So I began writing individual surahs out of appreciation for what the Quran has given me. And I hope that by writing the Quran in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and interesting to both Muslims and non-Muslims more people will read and appreciate this wonderful text, and begin to understand what Islam is really all about.

Q. What is it that you are showing through these texts about religion, philosophy & life?

E.B.: As a whole my work attempts to create a celebration of the Middle East. I want to illustrate an accurate reflection of the beauty, heritage and welcoming culture of this fantastic region to stand as a stark contrast to the backwards, war torn, antagonistic Middle East that our western media seems intent on creating. I want to focus on the positive aspects of the Islamic world, which are for more prevalent in reality than the negative images we are constantly bombarded with on television and in the news.

Q. I am particularly interested in the outlook you take in your art to bring awareness to the importance of our cultural differences. How important a role do you feel the world of art plays in being able to bridge gaps between cultures? And more importantly by bringing cultures together?

E.B.: I think art is a fantastic vehicle for initiating a dialogue between cultures and bringing the world closer together. An artist can hardly expect that their art will bridge cultures on its own. But ideally art could cause its audience to reevaluate their own opinions or raise meaningful questions to create a dialogue about one’s cultural differences. Additionally, art is a wonderful way to remind ourselves how similar we all are as human beings. For instance, if we look at a piece of calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy, anyone, whether they were raised in Djibouti, Kathmandu or New Orleans, will fall in love with his wonderful colours and flawless brush strokes.

Q. We love the colour calligraphy, what was the deciding factor into moving away from the traditional black and white and using these meaningful colours?

E.B.: The deciding factor was largely just the confidence in my hand and acquiring the right materials. It was obviously the next logical step. My style uses calligraphy to create clear visual images, so of course I’ve always wanted to work in colour, since that’s how we perceive the world in day to day life. I was limited to black ink initially because it’s easier for several reasons; it’s opaque so it’s very easy to make corrections or fill in weaker strokes without any variation in the stroke, I can also plan a piece out in pencil under black ink without it appearing in the final piece. I could also use black calligraphy fountain pens for small text and details, which are very user friendly. With coloured inks, I have to use dip pens which are a more flexible medium but make the ink more difficult to control. I was reluctant to use them on more complex images initially, since a composition often takes up to forty hours to create. I wasn’t quite ready to risk wasting all of that time because a little too much ink came out of the dip pen ruining a week’s worth of work with one stroke.

Surah 99 - The Earthquake
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and we wish you ongoing success.

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. At the age of eighteen he moved to Scotland to study international business and Arabic. He began formal training in Islamic calligraphy while living in Damascus, Syria in fall and winter of 2009. He is currently living and working as an artist in Beirut, Lebanon and continuing his study of Islamic calligraphy.