As a child, Abdul Karim Majdal al-Beik brought havoc to the home by scribbling all over the crockery in the kitchen and the walls. He could never have known however, that 25 years later this childish habit would bring him wealth and recognition as one of Syria’s most adventurous artists. Today, in a twist of fate, Majdal al-Beik’s artistic expression no longer reveals itself on walls, but in his paintings of walls. “The wall displays the effects of the weather, the drawings of children, death announcements and advertisements. Over time it becomes the memory of the neighbourhood and a certificate that documents its history in a given period,” Majdal al-Beik said.
He explained that the messages written on walls can be divided into political, religious and sexual categories. “When you walk through Palestinian refugee camps you see slogans like ‘Jerusalem is Arab – we will return’, whilst in other districts you might read ‘Husam loves Rima’,” he said. “These words reflect the people’s mood and desires. Walls often tell more about the goings-on in a district than the inhabitants themselves because they don’t butter people up”
Born in 1973, in Mourik, a small Kurdish village in northwestern Syria, Majdal al-Beik often paints the walls of the adobe houses he was familiar with as a child. He still even paints a symbolic X inside a square, the sign he and his friends would carve on the walls as kids when they played hide-and-seek. “We used to compete to see who could carve it more deeply so that the weather would not wipe it away. Now I realise that I was actually carving it deep in my mind,” he said.
The same materials used for building walls appear in Majdal al-Beik’s paintings, in which he mixes gypsum, charcoal, straw, sand and other building materials. Collages of advertisements and death announcements scraped off the walls in the city also find their way into his works. “I created my own wall which combines the memory of the city with that of Mourik,” he said.
Majdal al-Beik’s attachment to his childhood village is characteristic of his works. “Though Mourik means bead, the dominant colour in the village is yellow,” Majdal al-Beik said. “Maybe this is why our clothes and furniture are incredibly colourful.”
As a fledging artist he used to paint the women of Mourik in their traditional dresses using bright and vivid colours. Since moving on to paint the village’s walls however, colours have become less significant. “As the poet says: ‘When the vision broadens the phrases tighten’. It’s the same with painting: colours are tempting but the idea is more important,” he said.
Majdal al-Beik’s “wall” concept has grabbed the attention of art lovers. He has since won countless awards and held exhibitions throughout the region and France. Although he makes a living as a full-time artist now, Majdal al-Beik still remembers his struggle up the ladder of success as though it were yesterday. “Painting is a venture in Syria” he said. “Time passes by and you don’t have a house or a secure future, you just paint without knowing what’s next.” For Majdal al-Beik, it worked out well and as they say: Fortune favors the brave!
This article was published in Syria Today magazine.