Excavating the Present: Artworks by Issam Kourbaj


A Syrian-born artist in England has made an amazing collection of huge photogram style artworks, based in part on the investigation of light and light sources, in response to the crisis in Syria. This article introduces the artist and details some the inspiration behind the artwork from the exhibition.

Issam Kourbaj is a Syrian-born painter, sculptor, and theater designer based in Cambridge who has lived and worked in Russia, Mexico, and Cuba (among other places), but now resides in England. He is Artist in Residence at Christ’s College, Cambridge University. His work has been sought by the British Museum, as part of their 2009 exhibition, ‘Iraq’s Past Speaks to the Present.’

The British Museum states: “Kourbaj is an artist inspired by what transpires around him in the course of daily life, yet he also embraces the non-representational. Lack of confinement by the limits of the paper, canvas, and medium allows him absolute creative freedom. He also draws on the expressive and candid reactions observed in children’s art; this could also account for the element of nostalgia that is recognizable in Kourbaj’s work.”

I first met the artist on Art Foundation, where I was amazingly lucky to be taught by a whole host of inspiring people, one of which was Issam. Intriguing, curious, layered, investigative, wondering; with the ability to see though and beyond things, whether they were objects, images, or thoughts. He taught me to be curious of the everyday, of the past/present/future and of the connection between one thing and another, and to never throw anything away!

If you have the chance to see his work, I thoroughly recommend it. The exhibition connected with “Excavating the Present” ran from the 22nd of March to the 7th of April. The exhibition was held in collaboration with Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal.

Shown in the exhibition, among other works, were 24 huge collaged ‘Negatives’ which were then contact printed to create equally large black and white ‘Contact Prints’. The negatives were made from old X-ray plates and aerial photographic slides, on which he used various chemicals and tools to then erode, etch, cut and join each plate to make the various pieces into a single large negative. One of the negatives even incorporates an 8 inch square Kodak Aerochrome infrared aerial photographic slide.

The 6 ft x 4 ft photogram style contact prints were made on darkroom paper from a roll, in a makeshift darkroom, and then wet processed in giant trays. Though the ones for the exhibition were only black and white, Issam has also been looking into how to produce color contact prints on such a scale. The negatives themselves hold a myriad of subtle earthy rusted tones as well as greys, blues and flashes of fiery hues.

If you would like to learn more about his work, please visit his website or watch this short video about the artist.

written by asharnanae on 2013-04-16 #lifestyle #gallery #cambridge #artist #syria #exhibition #artwork #photogram #contact-print

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