Unsettling if literal piece of installation theatre about the Syrian conflict
It took an image of a dead toddler on a beach for the mainstream media to finally try to emphasise with Syrian refugees – the silent appeal locked into one picture worked, where thousands of words and statistics didn’t. Tania El-Khoury’s installation theatre piece is another way for the dead to speak – and we can’t just scroll past this face-to-face confrontation with the casualties of the Syrian revolution.
Abir Saksouk’s set design is a short row of graves, set in soft earth. Each of the handful of audience members is given a postcard that matches them to one of the martyrs they hide, and is invited to listen to their story from speakers embedded in each wooden grave marker. These narratives are built from interviews with their surviving relatives and friends – mine was the intense, oddly romantic story of Mustafa, who went to protests against Syria’s corrupt regime with his girlfriend. Together, they’d pretend to be newlyweds to escape police attention, but their real wedding ceremony was a rushed affair just days before Mustafa’s death. The same postcard invites me to dig in the earth with my hands, running clean compost through my fingers as chants and prayers for the dead fill the darkness.
The gloom, the buzz of unintelligible voices and the feeling of shifting soil makes this a deeply intense sensory experience. But there’s something uncomfortably literal about it, too, just a whisper away from the sounds ‘n’ smells immersion of an Imperial War Museum trench experience. The layers of research and replication create a rich context around these revolutionary deaths, but they also muffle their emotional appeal: sometimes a single, powerful image is the gut punch you need.