The Colour of Absence

by Miream Salameh

Artist Statement

Syrian-Australian artist Miream Salameh fled her beloved homeland in 2012. Already an accomplished artist on her arrival in Australia, Salameh is compelled to process her experiences of conflict and displacement through her multidisciplinary art practice, driven by an obligation to acknowledge the lives of her spiritual, intellectual and political heroes as part of her own survival and adaptation to a new country. The Colour of Absence explores how the intricate connections between memory, place, people, objects and identity are inflected by her experiences.

Salameh engages performance, video and photography to address her deeply personal experience of fleeing Syria as a dissident, together with the ongoing situation of her fellow Syrians who still live under threat or are detained as political prisoners, sometimes for years in darkness and solitary confinement. These meditative pieces reflect on what it means to be absent from the place you belong to and the specific qualities of loss and distance that accompany exile. For Salameh, her monotone video works express the way memories lose vivid detail and colour through distance or confinement. In stark contrast, the bright colours of her collage images of the personal belongings she carried when she fled Syria, convey optimism, nostalgia and the sense of home Salameh carries with her. This is Salameh’s first solo exhibition in Australia, a significant milestone as she develops a powerful visual language to express her presence in a new place.

Read catalogue essay written by Anna Sande.

The exhibition features two special events:

An online Panel Discussion on Wednesday 2 September 2020 between the artist and speakers Nur Shkembi and Dr Safdur Ahmed exploring themes of loss, memory, identity and creative response to trauma and conflict from a variety of perspectives. Further information and booking details to be announced when available.

A collaborative durational performance Knitting a Home that emulates daily acts of resilience, struggle and motherly love will take place on a date to be announced. It will be recorded and available to view as part of the online exhibition soon after.

Watch the panel discussion here:

The Colour of Absence

2019
2:11:19 Hours
Black and white video

This video documents a two-hour durational performance made by Salameh in 2019. The work is her interpretation of dissident lawyer, Riad Al-Turk’s experience as a political prisoner. Performed on one square metre of fabric, Salameh pays homage to his endurance and survival of twenty years of imprisonment for his outspoken position against the tyranny of the Syrian regime.

In two documentaries (Ibn al Am Online, 2012 and Ibn El Am, 2001) made by Syrian journalist Ali AtassiRiad Al-Turk spoke about being held in an isolation cell for eighteen years and how he found a way to resist the brutality of prison by circumventing time.

Salameh’s performance depicts how he would save the harsh grains from the soup delivered to his cell every second day and used them to make words and images. These were destroyed before the next meal was delivered and the grains saved to make more words and images over time. Salameh’s poetic tribute was made with the knowledge and permission of Ali Atassi.

The Colour of Absence | Photographs from the exhibition

Photographs by Damon Amb.

Portrait of War

2020
20 minutes

Black and white video

For Salameh, this black and white video depicts the colours of war. As she recorded, the slow-motion of handling a bullet found by chance in Australia, transported her back to memories of being caught in war in Syria.

This video represents an open dialogue between humans and the tools of war. She thought about the possibilities of a single bullet aimed at her, “it hits me or not”. This tiny, solid object offers a choice. It is questioning what is lost and what is gained if it is used or not.

Portrait of War | Photographs from the exhibition

Photographs by Damon Amb.

Knitting a Home

2019
1 Hour Durational Performance
Solo performance at the Immigration Museum
Video excerpt, 5 minutes
Videography by Blake Widdicombe.

2020
Coming Soon

1 Hour Durational Performance
Collaboration with artist Jarrah Storey

Knitting a Home reinterprets a solo performance made by the artist in 2019 at the Immigration Museum. This collaborative version will be performed live in a suburban Melbourne cul de sac on a date to be announced and available to view as part of the exhibition soon after. The repeated actions of the performance responds to Salameh’s childhood memories and daily acts of resilience, struggle and motherly love. The performers sit on a wool cover that is slowly unravelled and re-knitted for the duration of the performance. A new thing is created from the old.

Salameh describes the memories that inspired the performance;
“When I was a child in my homeland, Syria, I used to see my mother sitting for hours knitting and making new clothes for me and my two brothers from our old ones that we were not able to wear any more, she would re-knit them into new clothes for us. Now, because I had to flee my homeland, when I remember my mother doing this, I feel that I am home again. I recognise that her knitting was not just knitting itself, but it was a behaviour full of love, care, attention, tenderness and warmth. It is that nurturing that makes you feel at home. Also, the knitting was, for my mother, confronting and she resisted the challenges that our family experienced in life by drawing a smile on the faces of her children.

This performance emulates the resilience and struggles of many mothers in the world, especially the mothers of my country, who are still resisting in their land or have been forced to flee the woes of the war by seeking asylum in a safe place for their children and their families. Mothers who have become without a child, without a homeland, but who still hold on to hope and life, continue to give and sacrifice either from within their destroyed homes or from their tents thrown on the borders of their land”.

Salameh considers the performance of Knitting a Home as a symbol of the strong connections and relationships human beings create between each other, between ourselves and the things that we deal with in our daily lives, and the unbreakable ties that connect us to places and lands. These are the relations that make any place we are, a home. This performance is an invitation to all of us to reknit this relation.

Self Portrait, In Exile 2015

Video Stills Images | Digital print on glass |47 x 84 cm

This diptych of video stills portrays Salameh’s transition from her homeland to a new country. The watery, indistinct images evoke the struggle for identity that comes with arriving in a new society and trying to settle in.

They also reflect the absence of self from homeland, the loss of cultural transmission, of being seen by the people who see you clearly and mirror your own identity back to you.

They invite us to consider geographical distance and the huge gap this creates in ourselves and between ourselves and others.

MEMORY IMAGE

This series of photographic collages, Memory Image 1 -11 are composed of the personal belongings Salameh carried with her when she fled Syria. From identity documents to clothing, each object carries a story and activates a deep connection to her homeland and the people she left behind.

Salameh fears losing them because “they carry the hope of return, my memory, my ID and the smell of my homeland”.

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Hair extension from Lebanon

Photo from my childhood in front of my house from Marmarita my Village, Homs

2 Earrings from my aunty and my friend from Marmarita and Homs

4 Bracelets from aunties from Marmarita, Homs

1 Brown wood flower from my friend from Marmarita, Homs

1 Baggage passenger Card from Plane

The whole family flight tickets from Lebanon

Damascus University Student Card from Damascus

Subhi Sho’ieb Institute Student Card from Homs

2 Copy of the Family Extract in Arabic and English from Homs

4 University Curriculum Statement from Homs

2 of Individual Extract from Homs

1 UNHCR Registration Certificate from Lebanon

Syrian Passport from Homs

Syrian Identity Card from Homs

Al-Baath University Student Card from Homs

3 ID Photos from Homs

1 Necklace with an Ancient Coin from my art teacher from Homs and Stone from our land from Wadi Al-Nasara, Homs

Black Mobile from Homs

1 Mirror from Old Souq from Aleppo

1 White and Silver Watch from my mother from Marmarita, Homs

1 Small Jewelry Bag from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Paper of Newspaper from Lebanon

Stone Base of my teacher’s sculpture from Homs

1 Poem Book “Catch Your Heart Strongly” by Siham Sulaiman from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 gold and black Scarf from Aleppo

Stone sculpture from Homs

Black Short Jacket from Marmarita, Homs

1 wood Horse piece from My violin from Homs

1 Handmade Coffee cup “Antique” from my friend from Homs

Shells has been collected from Tartus

Two small stones “Antique” from our land from Wadi Al-Nasara, Homs

1 coin “Antique” from our land from Wadi Al-Nasara, Homs

Ancient Alphabets Paper from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Book “Ishtar’s Secret” By Firas Al-Sawwah from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

I Film CD “The Reader” from my friend Hatem from Homs

2 Papers written on them names of medication from Homs

4 Stone Rings from Homs

4 green Painting Brushes from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Pencil from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Stone sculpture from Homs

1 Head and base stone from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Tissue “I Love You” from the daughter of my art teacher from Homs

Old Syrian Currency from my friends from Homs

1 Notebook from Homs

Mahmoud Darwish Poem papers from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

The artist Wael Kasstoun Signature plate from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

Stone Brush from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Hummer from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

2 Chisel from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Id Photo of my Art Teacher Wael Kasston from Homs

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

3 Music Books from Homs

Poem written on 2 A4 paper from Lebanon

1 Newspaper from Lebanon

1 Bracelet from Marmarita, Homs

1 Brown Purse from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

1 printed copy of Vas Painting – brought to me from Australia years ago by my uncle – from Marmarita, Homs

2 Ancient small stones from our land from Wadi Al-Nasara, Homs

My Home Keys from Homs

3 Stone Rings from Homs

1 Necklace with an Ancient Coin from my art teacher from Homs and Stone from our land from Wadi Al-Nasara, Homs

The artist Wael Kasstoun Signature plate from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Stone Brush from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

1 Paper from Homs

1 Handmade handbag from Old Souq from Aleppo

Ancient Alphabets Paper from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

Shells stick on paper from Tartus

Qabalan Business Card from my friend from Homs

4 Currency from my friends from Homs

Gray piece of cartoon from Homs

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Green, Red, Blue and Black Scarf from Old Souq from Aleppo

Pair Shoes from Marmarita, Homs

1 Black Handbag from Al-Hwash, Homs

1 Notebook from Homs

I Issue of “Justice Magazine” founded by me and my friends when the revolution started in 2011- was distributed secretly in Homs – from Homs

3 Drawing from Marmarita, Homs

1 Newspaper from Lebanon

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Colorful Scarf from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

4 Photos ID 3 from Marmarita and 1 from Homs

Photo from my childhood in front of my home from Marmarita, Homs

“Baby Born” Image from Marmarita, Homs

A note written on small piece of paper from Homs

1 Small Pink Notebook from the daughter of my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

Piece of paper with 4 Numbers from Homs

1 Sketch from Lebanon

1 Brochure of group Exhibition from Homs

Arabic Cultural Center Membership Card from Homs

Camera Bag from Old Souq From Homs

Fee receipts from Subhi Sho’ieb Art Institute from Homs

1 A4 Paper from Homs

1 Colorful Make up Bag from Old Souq from Aleppo

Red Mobile brought to me from Australia years ago by my uncle, from Marmarita, Homs

1 Mirror – Bought from Old Souq to ran away from intelligence Checkpoint – from Homs

1 wood Horse piece from my violin from Homs

1 Stone Black Ring from Homs

1 Economic flight ticket to Australia from Lebanon

1 Black purse from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

Paper from notebook from Homs

Small notebook from Homs

1 printed copy of Painting – brought to me from Australia years ago by my uncle – from Marmarita, Homs

Strings from my violin from Homs

2 Patient Card for Optometrist Clinic from Homs

1 MTN Sim Card from Homs

1 Piece of paper with phone number from Marmarita, Homs

Baggage Passenger Card from the plane

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

3 Music Book from Homs “Fayroz and Marcel Khalifa” from Homs

3 Music Notesbooks from Homs

Music CDs, some from my friends from Homs

Programme CDs from my friends Homs

1 wood Horse piece from my violin from Homs

1 Blue Jeans Skirt from Old Souq from Homs

1 Red Handbag from Homs

1 Colorful Make up Bag from Old Souq from Aleppo

Music Notes written on paper from Homs

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Pink Dress from Old Souq from Homs

Rope Jumper from my friend from Homs

Special Gift Paper from Homs

Notes Pieces of paper from Lebanon

1 Old man photo from Marmarita, Homs

1 small Notebook from Homs

Mobile Sim Card from Homs

“The Creation” Image from Marmarita, Homs

1 Sketch from Homs

Music Instrument Tuner from Homs

Mobile from Marmarita, Homs

1 Pink Telephone Book from Marmarita, Homs

1 notebook from Homs

Green Pieces of paper from Homs

A notes paper from Lebanon

Phone number written on piece of paper from Homs

Khawater written on piece of paper from Homs

Al-Baath University Student Card from Homs

Baggage Passenger Card from Plane

Stickers baggage bags from Lebanon

Medication Notes from Homs.

Subhi Al-Sho’ieb Art Institute Student Card from Homs

My Art Teacher Messages written on Notebook from Lebanon

Pieces of white paper with notes from Homs

1 printed copy of Painting – brought to me from Australia years ago by my uncle – from Marmarita, Homs

Formal Document from Tartus

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Green blue Top sewing by mother from Marmarita, Homs .

1 Black Short Jacket from Marmarita, Homs

1 Green Top from Marmarita, Homs

1 Colorful Scarf from my aunty Marmarita, Homs

1 Gold and Black Scarf from Old Souq from Aleppo

1 Short purple Jacket from Marmarita, Homs

1 Skirt from Old Souq from Homs

1 Black Pajamas Pants from Marmarita, Homs

1 Olive Green Scarf from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

1 Pink Dress from Old Souq from Homs

1 Green Pajamas pants from Damascus

1 Newspaper from Lebanon

1 Stone Sculpture from Homs

3 Photos ID from Homs

Arabic Cultural Membership Card from Homs

Subhi Sho’ieb Art Institute Student Card from Homs

Damascus University Student Card from Damascus

Al-Baath University Student Card from Homs

Syrian Identity Card from Homs

Plastic Cover Identity Card from Homs

Baggage Passenger Card from Plane

1 Mirror – Bought from Old Souq to ran away from intelligence Checkpoint – from Homs

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Skirt from Old Souq from Homs

1 Black Pajamas Pants from Marmarita, Homs

1 Pink Dress from Old Souq From Homs

1 Black and White Pants from Old Souq from Homs

1 Blue and Black Pants from Old Souq from Homs

1 Green Top from Marmarita, Homs

1 Blue Jeans Dress from Marmarita, Homs

1 White Top from my mother Marmarita, Homs

1 Green Pajamas Pants from Damascus

1 Short Jacket from Marmarita, Homs

1 Bright Green Scarf from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

1 Green Blue Top sewed by my mother from Marmarita , Homs

1 Brown Pants from Old Souq from Homs

1 Green Scarf from my aunty from Marmarita, Homs

8 photos of Old men from Marmarita

1 photo of my grandma with her kitten “Shami” from Marmarita, Homs

Our story typed on papers of our humanitarian application to travel to Australia from Lebanon

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Skirt from Marmarita, Homs

1 Handbag from Marmarita, Homs

1 Issue of the Magazine “Apollodore” from my art teacher Wael Kasstoun from Homs

2 Books from the author from Homs

1 Caricature signed by my secret name “Yam” from Homs

4 books about art history from Homs

Diwan “Imam Al-Shafi’i” from my friend from Homs

Abu Nuwas Book “His Life and Poems” from my friend from Homs

1 Book about my Village Marmarita from Marmarita, Homs

1 Notebook from Homs.

Collage, photographic print on Aluminium
50 cm x 50 cm

From Memory Image collage series, 2020

1 Oil Painting by my friend Youseef Qabalan from Homs

1 printed copy of Vas Painting – brought to me from Australia years ago by my uncle – from Marmarita, Homs

1 green fabric Cover of my violin from Homs

1 Black Handbag from Al-Hwash, Homs

1 Book “The Stingy” By Al- Jahez from Homs

1 Brochure of group exhibition from Homs

1 Skirt from Marmarita, Homs

2 Handmade handbags from Marmarita, Homs

Violin Strings from Homs

1 Bracelet from Marmarita, Homs

1 Wood washing forceps from Homs

Missing:

30 kilograms of clay confiscated at Adelaide airport as foreign soil is not permitted to enter Australia.

Memory Image | Photographs from the exhibition

Photographs by Damon Amb.

About Miream Salameh

Miream Salameh was born in Homs, Syria in 1983. When the Syrian Revolution broke out in 2011, she was persecuted both as a revolutionary and visual artist. Miream, with her friends, founded a magazine called Justice in which they documented Assad’s abuses in the city of Homs. Due to her involvement in anti-government activism, she was forced to leave her homeland after regime forces made threats of rape, arrest, and murder against her, looting and destroying most of her artwork. With her three remaining artworks, she fled her homeland to Lebanon in 2012 and came to Australia in 2013.

Miream works in painting, sculpture and recently video and performance. Her artwork addresses issues of identity, displacement, conflict especially that related to the suffering of the Syrian people, who are being violently oppressed for resisting dictatorship. She studied at the Fine Art Institute in Syria and practiced with the well-known Syrian sculptor Wael Kasstoun for seven years. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Fine Art at the Victorian College of Arts (VCA).  Salameh has participated in many group exhibitions in Syria and overseas. In Australia, her work has been shown in the group exhibitions Syrian Story, solo exhibitions in windows Space Beaac in 2015 and The Isolation Cell 185,180, in Thirning Villa Gallery in Sydney in 2019.

The Colour of Absence by Miream Salameh is presented by MAV and Hume City Council.

Translate »