Razan Ghazzawi, Syria and The Roots To Resistance Women

I hadn’t planned to write this blog post today but the snow piling up outside has given me hope that some of you who are here in New England might have the time to read this. It is also not the kind of blog that I had planned to write but it is what has been on my mind.

I am always sifting through the same kinds of questions while I am painting, sending Postcards or putting up Street Posters. Am I doing this right?  Is it ok that I am doing it? Am I being careful enough about my own privilege? Am I sharing these movements objectively? Am I being sure not to be too heavy handed and preachy? Am I doing enough to help the Women I am portraying and working with? Are all of these questions holding me back? I guess it is good to have questions and perhaps it would be very bad news for all of us if we didn’t.

The campaign I am working on now as many of you know is for Syrian Civil Society and Justice Activist Razan Ghazzawi. I came to know of Razan through a Syrian friend Yasser who had worked here at Umass in the STPEC department and is now a Professor at Emerson out East. I had been following his posts about the Uprising in Syria and became very interested in finding a way to widen the conversation here about deeper truths in this Uprising than I felt we were getting from our media. We spoke about several Women Activists doing amazing work in Syria and I was immediately moved by Razan, at first because she had been detained several times for her Human Rights work, but it was in reading her blog entries that I realized her immense talent for conveying what was real and truthful. She has what many amazing Activists have which is a passion and authenticity that People want to connect to. So I decided to pursue having her on board as one of the amazing Women that I am painting and partnering with in order to tell the stories of the Resistance Movements they are a part of.

I was lucky enough to meet Razan in Boston about a month ago as before that we had been in contact over email and skype. I had learned she was leaving her work briefly to speak and raise funds for projects in Syria so I made arrangements to meet her. It really was an honor, Razan is truly a beautiful person and a fierce and honest Activist with real integrity. I was grateful to get to speak with her and to show her some of the Roots work and the Postcard I had created for general outreach about her and about the Syrian Uprising. I was elated that she was pleased with the Art and it’s message and that she was excited to work together brainstorming creative ways to support her Activism. Its just that I focus so intently on these Women, their stories and the faces I will be painting, so that when I meet them and form a connection it is a very high point for me. I am grateful for that.

I wanted to briefly address an issue that I know is out there in this Community and here in the West, particularly on the Liberal Left. About violence within Resistance Movements. About Guns, Revolutionaries, Pacifism. I have noticed that particularly with this campaign I am portraying in Syria that there are questions about the use of violence within the Uprising  versus non violence. “If we support the Uprising are we supporting the use of violence”? some People have asked. I am going to give you my opinion about this so you know where I am coming from. I believe that the question of Pacifism or use of arms to defend oneself or make change is a profoundly personal decision and very hard to assess when one has not been confronted with the extreme conditions that bring about the question. I have deep respect for so many movements: The Civil Rights Movement, The Zapatista Uprising, The Revolution in South Africa and the Uprising in Syria and all have used different paths. It is easy in retrospect to make heroes of all of these movements as can be seen with all of the Che Guevara Tshirts, love of Mandela and Zapatista Art but many of these movements were pushed to use force at some point in their struggles. Razan Ghazzawi is a Peaceful Activist doing amazing work within an Uprising full of many players, some who have chosen to use force as an option and who am I to judge that. I am shining a light on the Peoples Uprising, I am painting the Community Builders, Journalists, Human Rights Activists like Razan. I am sharing their story.

It is an odd thing to be painting a reality which is partially filled with so much pain, hardship and oppression that I am not a part of. That of Chouchou Namegabe and DR Congo,  Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma or Razan Ghazzawi and the Uprising in Syria. I am not telling my day to day story, I am trying to share the story, history and emotional essence of someone else. Maybe some would say I shouldn’t and that may be a valid consideration but I have decided to go ahead and try. I used to just paint for myself, maybe to try to heal old things but now I want to try to do something else with my Art, something cliche I suppose like make a difference and so be it, like many others before me I would like to do my best to be part of something greater that is outside of myself and my own needs.I think I have some talent for painting stories and telling the story of how things feel in the Art, so that is what I focus on when the inner questions come, the ones I started this blog with. They are good questions and I am sure mistakes will be made, have been made, but I am committed to this work and will just keep doing my best.

Gratitude. Denise/RootsSlide #9 Razan GhazzawiSAM_2489

9 thoughts on “Razan Ghazzawi, Syria and The Roots To Resistance Women

  1. Denise, thank you for being so candid about your process on this project. I have great respect for the work you do and the art you produce. It especially hit me when you said ” I guess it is good to have questions and perhaps it would be very bad news for all of us if we didn’t” because I believe that this philosophy can be used at every step of each life’s journey. ~W~ allison


  2. Hi Denise, I really appreciate the questions you are asking. i think being self-reflective in a project in which you represent other people is imperative, especially because these are important stories of great oppression that we all experience differently, even as they dramatically connect us — which is one of the messages of your work.
    Speaking of connection, you also mention the challenges folks sometimes bring you as they view your work, like the question of whether and how a project should support violent or non-violent resistance. this is a great question. And, I think it’s one that is used sometimes to avoid difficult realities instead of actually respond to them. To simply say, as you view a portrait of a non-violent resistor, that we shouldn’t represent or honor resistance associated with any kind of violence is to take on a long list of giants in human rights history, like Nelson Mandela just to start. It is also to be very short-sighted about what actual violence is and our connection to it — not as gun toting hot-headed radicals (who in this case are simply people who want peace and opportunity without orthodoxy or dictatorship in their government or their lives), but simply as consumers of food, oil and other basics.
    — Violence is hunger,assault of any kind, poverty of all kinds, ignorance, neglect, exclusion, and the list goes on. It is not just physical assault with a weapon against or as an aggressor.
    — especially given the breadth of this definition and how important its implications are for the responsibility of the first world in these realities, I think we have to reconsider the assumption that by doing nothing (or not doing something) we are not causing violence. Pacifism is NOT claiming moral high ground by refusing to talk about or give money or political space to groups who have decided that violence is one of the strategies they will use for whatever reason. THAT is passivity. It is passive not only because these non-doers are usually not working to understand a violent situation in the context of all the complexities and inequalities that are inherent in any conflict, or promoting alternatives with respect for the experiences — specifically the inequalities, that inform that situation. It is violently passive because these folks are also usually driving cars, buying food and clothes and ideas about themselves from large corporations that are either stealing labor from populations impoverished by US imperial economic policies, or slaughtering civilians, “collateral damage” of US terrorism to “defeat” terrorism — because we refuse to develop alternative energy sources to big, dirty and violent coal and oil industries.
    I’m not saying that shooting someone is the same as driving a car (but I can see the argument), and I’m not saying that it’s ok or even strategic to shoot back (I can see that one, too). these examples may feel abstract to you, but they are not at all abstract to millions of people who are not even asked what they think about the morality of the violence they bear all the time. Definitely, let’s talk about violence and its immorality! But not as if we are not already engaged in violence every day. everyone of us. and often without an immediate threat to our own loved ones. so what’s our excuse?!


    • Hey thanks for taking the time to read and respond Katherine. Really appreciated your thoughtful comments and the questions you asked and addressed. Was really good to hear your perspective 🙂


    • Wow! Somehow I missed this awesome commentary of yours Katherine! Thanks for the thoughts, they are on point and really appreciated 🙂 Maybe you will read my newest post and let me know what you think!


  3. Thanks Denise for speaking the minds of many women activists. There are times, I get drown by these questions. and most at times, I get no answer to any but for the one thing–the zeal and force that keeps me looking for best alternatives to influence change.
    Reading through your blog, it seems to me as a reflection of the lives of many womens activists, especially the Syrian women and children who need PEACE.

    Once more thanks for this wonderful piece


    • Thanks so much for the support Zoneziwoh and for the thoughtful reply. It is so good to have partnership with amazing Women like yourself, who are asking these questions and doing such important work in their Communities. Thanks for taking the time to read my Blog.
      Much gratitude


  4. Your comments and questions are moving ones Denise – and I have come to expect that of you. Which is why I will always try to support whatever you are doing, in my meager ways. You are bare bones honest and scrutinizing and this is a huge gift. Keep on. Keep us wrestling these issues with you. You are an activist and educator, and inspiration and artist. You are also a great writer. These are your gifts to share with the world, and we are blessed to be in the world with you.


    • Wow. Many thanks Kristi for your kind words about the work and the writing. I am honored and grateful to have your support, which is far from meager. It means a lot to have local support, Women like yourself who are consistently keeping in touch with Roots. It makes me feel like a We rather than and I. Your support is really appreciated. Gratitude.


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