A Face For All Seasons (profile of Syrian sculptor Ghazwan Allaf)

Photos Manaf Hassan, Ghazwan Allaf

Carved bronze and wooden faces greet visitors who enter the home of Syrian sculptor Ghazwan Allaf. Portraying a wide range of human emotions, it is easy to find at least one with which you can immediately identify with. “I sculpt faces because they are very expressive,” Allaf said. “When you see someone, the first impression you get is from his face.”

Intriguingly, Allaf carves many of the faces with their eyes closed. Some symbolise a peaceful state of meditation. Others represent two people falling madly in love; the moment they lose themselves in each other, preserved in bronze and wood. On the darker side, some faces represent feelings of despondency or anger and that long for inner peace. Yet even when exploring these more troubling themes, Allaf said his work is always positive. “There’s something good in every person,” he said. “I capture this moment of the inner quest.”

One of Allaf’s most recent sculptures depicts the thought processes of a pregnant woman and her husband before she gives birth. “The father closes his eyes because he sees the birth from a romanticised point of view,” he said. “The mother, on the other hand, keeps her eyes open because she sees it as a physical process. For her it’s an act of creation and she wants to witness every moment of it.”

After almost 10 years of working with bronze, Allaf recently switched to carving wood. Unlike many sculptors, however, his choice of wood is inspired by the concept he seeks to portray. “I pick the wood to suit my idea, not the other way round,” he said.

Allaf’s sculptures are movable and some can be changed to form up to nine different figures. In his latest exhibition at Damascus’ al-Sayed Gallery, over half of the sculptures have this unique feature. “The flexibility of the sculpture to transform into different shapes enriches the theme that is being portrayed, without overshadowing the main focus of the piece,” he said.

The 35-year-old also always adds a piece of bronze to his wooden figures. This dash of metal gives an even quirkier edge to his sculptures.

Allaf, a teacher at Adham Ismael art institute in Damascus, believes new ideas and methods in sculpting are easy to introduce into Syria. He said sculpting can sometimes be harder than other art forms to pursue because it is more expensive and time consuming. “People usually go for the easier and faster things in life,” he said.

While Syrian sculpture is little-known in the West, Allaf believes there is great potential for sculptors to raise their profile on the international art scene. “When you work hard and do a good job, along with some marketing talent, you can definitely succeed,” he said. “The world lies right at our feet. It’s up to you to make your own luck.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.

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