Encrypted in Walls (profile of painter Abdel Karim Majdal Al-Beik)

Syrian painter, Abdel Karim Majdal Al-Beik paints the hidden meaning behind walls.

Walking down the dusty little alleys of Old Damascus, Abdel Karim Majdal Al-Beik was stricken by the death announcements hanged all over the city and the fact that only elderly people read it as if queuing in a line and waiting for their own death.  “Watching these aging men and women, I suddenly started to realize the passing of time and I felt a growing surge inside me to paint it.” Majdal Al-Beik says.

And what else depicts time better than a wall with its layers of peeling paint, the effects of the weather and the graffiti of the neighborhood’s teenagers? Instead of simply painting a wall with oil colors, Majdal Al-Beik decided to build a real wall on his canvas using gypsum, charcoal, straw, sand and other building materials. “I want to reflect the feeling of a real wall, therefore any material you find in a wall can be used in my paintings,” Majdal Al-Beik says.

Might sound awkward, but Majdal Al-Beik believes that walls not only reflect time but they also indicate the geographical, political, religious and even sexual identity of a given society. Looking around Majdal Al-Beik’s studio in Jaramana, I have to admit that this couldn’t be closer to the truth. Covered with handmade textile holders with beautifully embroidered pockets for Majdal Al-Beik’s brushes and unique amulets sewed of Harmel, a prickly desert plant resembling chickpeas that is known for its power to scare away evil spirits, the walls of Majdal Al-Beik’s studio reflect the atmosphere of north Syria. A closer look at the beads and lines of Kurdish poetry on the paintings that decorate the walls, on the other hand, ascertain any attentive visitor that Majdal Al-Beik comes from Morik -meaning bead in Kurdish- a tiny Kurdish village in Hasakeh.

Morik doesn’t only appear in Majdal Al-Beik’s studio. Rather, the old black and white photos of the women and men of Morik in their traditional Kurdish clothing set in old fashioned wooden frames and the cracked muddy surface of their adobe houses appear in three of Majdal Al-Beik’s latest works symbolically entitled: Morik. On the edges of the frames are countless little photos and packets of bad quality, old Syrian Hamra and al-Sharq cigarettes. “These are all photos of my family and relatives,” says Majdal Al-Beik. “I stuffed them to indicate the habits of the poorer areas like Morik were one framed photo becomes an album in front and an envelope for letters and empty cigarette packets, which are used as notebooks, from behind.”

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, on the other hand, appears in almost all of Majdal Al-Beik’s works. “We used to compete with my friends to see who could carve this symbol more deeply so that the weather would not wipe it away,” Majdal Al-Beik says. “Now I realize that I was actually carving it deep in my mind,”

On Majdal Al-Beik’s paintings you can also read phrases like: a house for rent, call: 0934970768 or our shop has moved and other political or religious graffiti that according to Majdal Al-Beik indicate the identity of each neighborhood.  “It’s impossible to pass by the Palestinian camp in Damascus without reading hundreds of slogans like Jerusalem is Arab while drawings of the cross and Jesus clearly indicate that you are wandering in the streets of the Christian area of Bab Touma.” He says.

In fact, Majdal Al-Beik sees walls as the memory of each neighborhood and a certificate that documents its history in a given period. “I find great pleasure in reading walls, many of the walls around us could actually be considered art works and I often have to fight the surge to hang a frame and sign them.”  He says. “Remember what Michelangelo said? There’s a sculpture inside every rock, I just bring it out.”


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