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A Dedication for the Son of Syria

posted on: Sep 9, 2015


Picture: Nizar Qabbani

BY: Adrian Tafesh/Contributing Writer

When Nizar Qabbani, the Syrian writer and progressive thinker, lost his wife in the Lebanese Civil War, he wrote vividly of his anger at the entire Arab world for allowing for the possibility of her murder. And though he loved his native Syria, he died in exile in the west. He wrote frequently of anguish and resentment and yet, Qabbani dreamed of unity, a proper Watani. Truly his message and his life’s work bear as much significance today as ever.

It is appropriate that a poet who once referred to the “Jasmine scent of Damascus” when describing the city’s significance to him, should be immortalized in a garden. The Syrian community of Cleveland, will have a sculpture of Qabbani dedicated this Saturday, September 12th at the Syrian Garden in the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Ohio. The dedication will be followed by an evening cultural program.

Sculpture of Nizar Qabbani by artist Leila Khoury to be dedicated at the Syrian Garden in Cleveland, Ohio on September 12, 2015

The Gardens have existed in Cleveland since the 19th century, with the Syrian Garden being updated four years ago. They serve to honor the countless ethnic communities that have shaped and defined the city since its foundation. Leila Khoury, the artist behind the sculpture, is herself a member of the Syrian community of Cleveland. She cites the support of the community in helping to raise funds, even from non-Syrians familiar with the garden. “We reached a larger American audience” Khoury said. “We had support from Syrian community members, as well as other regulars at the park.” Ultimately the Kickstarter campaign that she organized raised over 2,500 dollars to get the sculpture made and cast in bronze.

Khoury prefers the term “portrait” to describe this particular work, and it is exactly the personal nature and earnestness of that word that perfectly denotes Qabbani himself. He was a deeply personal poet, and one who strayed so far from social convention as to cause both conservatives and progressives of his time to react in anger at some of his writings. In particular, he faced backlash for writing honest and un-squeamish poetry about the female body.

And yet, a man of the people, he was loved by all. Khoury does not fail to mention that “he advanced poetry by making it accessible. Arab poetry prior to him mainly adhered to a formulaic structure and was primarily written by the elite.” She went on to explain how her relationship to art, like Qabbani’s often comes from a dark place, and that he was often inspired by his grief and exile. In this way his story is a stand-in for the stories of so many gifted and yet disadvantaged Syrians today.

Therefore, there can be no better, more humble, memorial to Qabbani than to have a portrait of him, paid for by the people and made by an artist, in a park open to any and all.

*Leila Khoury is a sculpture and installation artist who has recently founded the ZAINA Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio, where she is currently displaying some of her work. For more information and images of her artwork go to: