The multicultural world of Syrian artist Hala al-Faisal
DAMASCUS - Hala al-Faisal is a full-fledged artist. In addition to being an accomplished painter with many exhibitions to her credit, she sings and acts. She had a role in Samir Zikra’s film “Chronicles of the Coming Year” (1986).
She is the daughter Wasil al-Faisal, who was from Homs and was a political leader and minister in the Syrian government.
Faisal speaks eight languages, including Arabic, Russian, French, English, German and Spanish. She studied fine arts in Damascus and set decor at the Higher Institute of Cinema in Moscow. She moved to Paris to study art and to New York to study sculpting.
Faisal has lived in Italy, Germany, Spain and the United States but has always been nostalgic for her hometown, Damascus.
“I was influenced by politics and very impressed by it but, when I grew up, I did not belong to any political party,” Faisal said.
She has devoted a major portion of her artistic production to women as a direct result of her childhood environment. The Faisal home in Damascus was often the place for discussions about women’s rights, which transformed her into a defender of those rights. “My first exhibition was devoted to defending women using the brush and words as well. I had to face a barrage of criticism at the time,” Faisal said.
She has studied in Syria, the Soviet Union, France and the United States. “In Damascus, I studied art at first. In the Soviet Union, I studied decor at the Higher Institute of Cinema,” she said. She described her days in Moscow as “extremely enriching.” She stayed there for five years starting from 1985. “It was a culture shock for me and a totally new world,” Faisal said.
Faisal said: “An artist must first paint the human body as is, in its entirety and truth and then he can break whatever rules he wants to paint. Picasso used to say: ‘I had painted for 70 years, so that I could paint instinctively.’”
Faisal said the United States brought her “a great deal of new knowledge and experience. It was another world moving at a fantastic speed. I lived in New York and experienced its grandeur. I hated it at first but then fell in love with it when I learned its language.
“They became interested in me when they learned that I was Syrian and Arab. The Americans are intelligent people who have adopted everything that is excellent in the world. In America, nothing is rooted in the ground. Everything floats in the air and that is why you never feel psychologically secure there.”
Regarding the eight languages she knows and the values they’ve taught her, Faisal said: “I learned that a person would know the real worth of another person when he has mastered his language. Through his language, you can understand the person. When you want to really know a people, you’ve got to know their language. I’ve lived in many countries and I’ve learned their languages because I wanted to know their people. For example, in New York I read in English and in France I read in French and in Syria I read in Arabic.”
“The brain is a complex machine while being flexible and intuitive at the same time,” added Faisal. “When I’m in a particular country, I adjust to it and start speaking its language. I forget that I know other languages. I learnt more than one language and I appreciate the specificity of each one of them.
“I loved French as a sensitive, beautiful and literary language,” she said. “When I learned English, I stayed away from French for a while. English is the language of new horizons and freedom. German is wonderful because of the logic it carries, which is associated with passion.”
About being near Mount Qasioun, which overlooks Damascus, and returning to it every year, she said: “Qasioun and Damascus are the reasons for my frequent presence in Syria lately. I miss my home and the view I have of Mount Qasioun. The mountain is a great inspiration. It sits there proud and steadfast and could not care less about what goes on around it. I always claim that I’m learning a lot from nature, from objects and animals.
“Have you ever seen a depressed animal? Of course not, because it lives away from man. We need to go back to nature. In Germany, I would go to the park and stick to the grass to merge with nature. Damascus is the womb that I cannot and don’t want to leave. I love Homs, too, which I’m rediscovering.”
Regarding her future projects, Faisal said: “I’ve never abandoned singing. I’m still learning the guitar and soon I will produce a joint singing project. I’m continuing to act in Germany. I am rehearsing a new play. As to Syria, I wouldn’t mind at all repeating my experience if I receive a text that suits me. ”