By: Christine Gedeon + sound artist: Bent Bøgedal Christoffersen
Syria..As My Mother Speaks is an interactive playable “string instrument” exhibited at the Textilmuseum in Bocholt, Germany in May 2014. Using strands of nylon wire connected to the architecture of the museum, this instrument, when triggered, played layered sounds and snippets of the stories and conversations with my mother (mainly in Arabic), centered around the war in Syria, my relatives there, and her memories before the war.
Realizing that the war naturally comes up in topic while speaking to my mother, and how personal many of the stories were, I needed to do something with them. I had relatives in Aleppo and Damascus that are still impacted and the tragedies you would just hear on the news, were actual events affecting my family: “Did you hear that Amal’s house in Damascus was hit by a rocket..?” or “The car bombing in Damascus was a few blocks away from Benita’s office…” or “A soldier knocked on Sylva’s sister’s apartment in Aleppo and threatened to kill her son unless given a ransom.” This as my mother would lament, was not the Syria she remembered growing up in her sheltered life beginning during the French Mandate in school at the Franciscaines Missionnaires de Marie in Aleppo to her nights out with my father at Club d’Alep enjoying dancing, Aleppan cuisine, and a very large social circle.
Working with Danish sound artist, Bent Bøgedal Christoffersen, where he layered these snippets of conversations against a backdrop of war sounds, chants, and traditional Syrian songs, this instrument plays as a harp where each string triggers different points in this sound collage, representing the lost tradition of music in Syria, replaced by the sounds of war today.
While the war in Syria is a huge tragedy on a global scale; what it is for my family and I is a reminder of our own tragedies, our own histories, and the realization that we may never again see the place where we came from, not as it once stood, as though all of our own personal histories are being erased with the collapsing of these cities and architectural history.