For Issam Kourbaj, home means many things. It is the womb, skin, or clothes as much as it is a tent, a house, or a nation. A safe vessel for consciousness to make the passage through life. Like exiles and émigrés everywhere, Kourbaj has had to redefine ‘home’ for himself whenever he has felt the old definitions shift. Home, in one conventional sense, is Cambridge, where, since 1990, Kourbaj has lived, practised, and raised a family. Home is also Syria: Suweida, where he was born, and Damascus, where he painted the city gates across the Barada river. Like millions of migrants, Kourbaj is always away from home, even when he is at home – there is always another place of belonging. In Kourbaj’s case, this other home – the first home – is lost behind the shroud of war. While he works in the studio behind his Cambridge home, Kourbaj makes the journey back to Syria, daily, with his hands.
The exhibition at The Heong Gallery assembles works spanning the thirteen years of the ongoing Syrian conflict, responding to the trauma of displacement and migration. It explores the dual loss of exile, the loss of home as well as the loss of self.
A concurrent exhibition of work by Issam Kourbaj is taking place at Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. A new publication will explore the themes and artworks in both exhibitions. ‘You are not you and home is not home’ is curated by Prerona Prasad.