It is not possible to understand art without looking at and digging into the past. Portraiture in geographic location such as Syria, which witnessed a succession of civilizations since ancient times, is like exploring an issue that is imperative to understand, and which is related to all humanity. An attempt at describing the scene of contemporary Syrian performing arts in the past century will be our aim, rather than a lengthy discussion of ancient history. Telling the story of portraiture in past times reveals the historical dimension behind the art of modern portraiture, and therefore sheds light on a vital issue related to the origin of the image.
Issues related to portraiture have occupied an excited interest in curious modern European minds since the eighties. Hence this art became the subject of several research studies, as well as controversies, especially after the reprinting of Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). In parallel, interest in artworks in Europe was witnessing a significant development in having exhibitions for individual or group artists on portraits or self-portraits. Yet, upon leafing through books and publications which take up portraiture in Europe, one discerns that this art is referred to as “recent invention in Western history.” Contrary to that point of view, Elias Zayyat confirms in most of his writings that “we are the pioneers of the culture of portraiture in every sense of the word.” What are the characteristics of this art that Zayyat considers one of the main features of Syrian art? And how was this issue taken up in the current Syrian artistic life? What is the source and relevance of such a question for Syrian artists, since no Syrian exhibition has made room for portraiture as a fundamental theme so far?