Dark Water Burning World: the island of Lesbos & the boats of Syria
It is now six years since the Syrian uprising but the sea between Turkey and the Greek islands is still a terrifying passage for Syrians fleeing the violence in their country.
The poet Ruth Padel has had a lifelong relationship with Greece. She visited the island in 2016, went into camps, talked to refugees, islanders and a local newspaper editor who found stark echoes of the Syrian refugees’ stories in memories of her own grandmother, a refugee from Smyrna in 1922. Padel then joined Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj in a collaboration to mark the courage of the refugees, and generosity of the islanders. Kourbaj’s artwork is both in response to the Syrian tragedy and crisis, and inspired by 5th century BC Syrian vessels in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Dark Water Burning World explores, through poetry and art, the visible and invisible scars of loss scorched into escaping Syrians by the separation from their homeland.
Ruth Padel read a poem on Lesbos and gave an illustrated talk of her visit and the situation there today. Issam’s Kourbaj’s artwork was on display as he gave an illustrated talk about his life and work in Syria and the making of Dark Water Burning World.
Image: Issam Kourbaj
This event is given in partnership with The Sanctuary Programme, the response of the King’s community of staff and students to the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has witnessed since the Second World War: the 60 million refugees fleeing from Syria and other conflict zones. Recognising that this displacement impacts particularly on young people – disrupting their education and potentially creating a ‘lost generation’ with few prospects – King’s is deploying its expertise in education, its problem-solving ability, its online resources, its knowledge of the region and its leadership skills to initiate and lead projects that will help prevent that scenario and create positive opportunities. At the same time, King’s recognises that this programme will increase understanding of migration issues and the refugee crisis among its own staff and students. Working with international partners who share King’s principles of inclusivity, stewardship, and unrelenting ambition, we can support innovative interventions to make the world a better place.
ISSAM KOURBAJ was born in Syria and trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture in St Petersburg and at Wimbledon School of Art. Since 1990, he has lived in Cambridge, was Artist in Residence and Bye-Fellow at Christ’s College where he is now Lector in Art. Several editions of Dark Water, Burning World are currently on display at the Penn Museum, USA as part of the exhibition Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq, at the British Museum, as part of an art intervention called Scars, and was installed for one day at the Jameel Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, as part of Refugee Week 2017.
RUTH PADEL is an award-winning British poet and writer. She is Professor of Poetry at King’s where she teaches Poetry and Drama for the Creative Writing team of the Department of English. Born in London, she began as a classicist, teaching and writing on ancient Greek tragedy and has lived extensively in Crete. Her most recent book, Tidings – A Christmas Journey, is a narrative poem about Christmas and homelessness.