In Monkith Saaid's studio in Sahnayah, a village south of Damascus, nothing escapes his artistic universe; neither moldy wood, rusted steel, smashed reeds nor stones or glass. Not even sawdust. All traditionally neglected material evading sight or interest enters his workshop and transforms itself, through his extraordinary genius, into beautiful and delicate creatures, whispers of love and shouts of protest against oppression, which collapse together in a hysterical dance.
In bronze, he sculpts a smile. In the wound of wood he allows for a flow of blood. On the walls spreads a grid of ivy in all its moist and reverberating greenness. Metal formations embrace the walls like flourishing ivy that has lost its color and has gone on to become coquettish wires and metal plants, at times putting forth leaves, other times bursting into leaf.
In a corner, far from light, a metal bird with enormous wings settles on the ground. It is as if the place penetrates deeply into the sculpted block itself so that you feel heaviness in everything surrounding it. The air appears like a bird heavy in every aspect, even its wings, unable to coexist with any centimeter of this place. In this obscure corner, a metal bird left behind by Monkith is poised as if about to depart. The air weaves around its surroundings like the roots of invisible evergreen oak.
This bird does not resemble those birds that hover in the horizons and skies. Perhaps it is a mythical bird, a bird that does not hover alone without holding in its clasp a spark of the soul or spirit of the creature it has pulled out from under the earth.
Perhaps this is the same bird that now carries Monkith Saaid's soul and soars with it far ... far away. I wonder if he saw this bird one day and grasped its wings when it alighted in his workshop. Did he sculpt it from a dream? From a nightmare? Did he realize this by the way the last finishing touches on this sculpture felt? Did he feel fear in its presence?
There is yet another bird, a bird that palpitates, weeps, trembles, and remains hovering amongst these creatures. This is Monkith Saaid himself. With his well-known laughter, he remains soaring amongst his dispersed creatures; amongst the corners, walls, and small surfaces he placed in his studio like one who adorns the folds of metal with generous stone. In his studio you don't feel the presence of a hammer, nor supplies for chiseling, drilling, casting; nor all the exhaustion and sweat that sometimes overflows when you are in the studio of sculptors. He is content with a vagabond, shy gaze; frequent steps; a hand extended in a gesture. It is as if the trembling represents the exhaustion and sweat responsible for the completion and ascent of his beautiful creatures, for the significance of that which leaves from between the fingertips. For what it sees and says.
In the green sash that flows in the wind, Monkith Saaid hides the defectiveness of the metal when it shows itself in the body of the lover. In dancing movement he casts magical powers under the sheets of rock or lets them soar in the air like bronze undressed at night.
In the walls of his studio and from its material he creates what he longs for. He says what he wishes and becomes silent. When he is silent, it is in all shapes and colors. He writes from the heart and paints its meaning, before one of his sculptures that knows how to create sculptures, stands amongst his formations. He does not, even for one moment, refrain from making his meaning dance. And that which makes his vision clear in the open space is the silent sound that cries out in his artwork and creatures, regardless of its materials, meaning or reference point.
He does not accept the elements as they are, but he has his own way of protest that inverts their original function. Thus the metal of a smashed window takes the shape of exquisite poetry. Neglected sawdust in the trash of the carpenter transforms into intricately woven sashes or embroidery on a metal stand. He paints sometimes, and plays with his art, at other times, like a child who is unaware that he is creating worlds and passageways to the horizon.
"The Chair" is one of his last formidable sculptures. One day he told me that he had decided at the last minute to turn the sculpture upside down. Then, as he burst into laughter, he said, "In this sculpture, we see petty tyrants tripping over themselves and losing their power."
Indeed, it is his laughter, which can never be separated from each sculpture his fingertips have left behind. This laughter must always be present, visualized, and imagined in every glance the spectator has on his work. He or she will certainly find its shadows and features hidden either in the metal, wood, fabric or the gestures, winks and mutters of its creatures.
This laughter is the undying signature of Monkith Saaid, who passed away, but left behind his fingertips grasping the place.
Translated from the Arabic by Rebecca Joubin
This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 15, no. 60 (2009)
Copyright (c) 2009 by Al Jadid