Dark Water, Burning World - Issam Kourbaj - Artist in Focus - March 2017

The sea is neither abundant nor beautifully mysterious for many Syrian refugees. It has turned into a terrifying tunnel through which their fates are being decided: to live or die. Dark Water, Burning World a new artwork inspired by the 5th century BC Syrian Sea vessels, deals with the way escaped Syrians now carry visible and invisible scars scorched into them by the separation from their homeland: scars of permanent loss, and of continuous losing. They have not only lost their land, their possessions, their homes, and their people, but also for many their pride and identity. They have lost the tangible and the intangible, their pasts, presents and most notably their futures

Kourbaj's work typically considers, exaggerates and alters the discarded object and extends its familiar voice into the realm of the poetic.

To mark the sixth anniversary of the uprising in Syria, poet, classicist and Hellenophile Ruth Padel, joins artist Issam Kourbaj, to present an intervention that explores the millennia-long relations between the Near East and ancient Greece. In this display (case 14, Gallery 21) you can see Kourbaj's Dark Water, Burning World - a new artwork inspired by 5th century BC Syrian vessels from the Museum's collection which are brought together in this display. Fragments from Padel's new poem Lesbos 2015, influenced by her meetings on the island of Lesbos, both with the inhabitants and with some of the thousands of Syrians who have fled there can be seen below and on the display panel alongside the intervention

“…and their stories our stories

steered by the small
star-light of cell phones
waves like rings of a tree         
rings of the centuries
rocking and spilling
on the windy sea
as if water kept its shape
after the jug has broken
one shining petrified moment
before the shattered pieces fall away

© Ruth Padel 2017


Exhibition: 15/03/2017 – 31/07/2017
Lesbos and Syria Event: 15/03/2017 15.30 – 16.30, Gallery 21  
 Fitzwilliam Museum, 32 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2

Tuesday - Saturday: 10:00 - 17:00
Sundays & Bank Holidays: 12:00 - 17:00

Free Admission


This is the 1st edition of Dark Water, Burning World. The 2nd edition is going to be part of several installations by Issam Kourbaj,  in response to the Penn Museum's upcoming exhibition: CULTURES IN THE CROSSFIRE: STORIES FROM SYRIA AND IRAQ



For further information about Issam Kourbaj's work contact  [email protected]

Courtesy and ©Issam Kourbaj, Sami Kourbaj (images) Ruth Padel (poetry) and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,  2017.  All rights reserved.
Issam Kourbaj
Dark Water, Burning World, 2016,
Boats (made from re-purposed discarded bicycle
steel mudguards), extinguished matches and clear resin
Dimensions variable

My individual, dedicated service means that all projects are handled with the utmost discretion, to international museums codes and fine art practice. Experience, knowledge and attention to detail are key elements. Please get in touch to see how I can help you with your requirements. All these services are bespoke and chargeable as agreed in advance.