By Christine Gedeon
Having left Syria as a young child, Christine Gedeon visited the country only once as an adult–her wish to return impeded by the war. These drawings, supplemented with family photographs, from her book, Aleppo: Deconstruction | Reconstruction, represent locations in pre-civil war Syria of personal significance to her family.
“I embarked on this personal mapping project of the city as a way of solidifying this destroyed landscape, of dissecting my family’s personal narratives and memories, while also questioning the survival and longevity of these places.”
With digital drawings based on Google Earth images, adhesive tape, pencil, and thread, Gedeon makes visible that which today exists only in memory.
Khan al-Tatoun (site of my grandfather’s office), Aleppo, 2019 Photo courtesy of Dima Dayoub
Michel (standing in back), first time visiting family in New Jersey, USA, around 6 months before his abduction, 1977
“The Kassis hospital, where you, Pia, and Elias were born, used to be a villa...it was very beautiful and down the street from our house. I remember when I delivered Pia, and your Uncle Michel, who was a leader of the louveteaux (Cub Scouts), was walking by the hospital singing in French, ‘Un kilomètre à pied, ça use les souliers’ with the louveteaux. He was about 17 years old, wearing a navy blue beret and uniform, the boys were maybe about 10–12 years old. I was in bed and saw them from the window, and he looked up wondering which window was my room because he knew I was there and had just delivered, but he didn’t see me. I still have that image in my head while I could hear them singing from my window. I am sad today as I remember it...”
“Kassis Hospital (my mother’s memory),” 2017, digital drawing with thread, pencil, and tape on archival paper, 16.8 x 23.5 in (42.7 x 59.7 cm) © Christine Gedeon, Aleppo: Deconstruction | Reconstruction, Kerber Verlag
“Your Uncle Michel was living in Toulouse, France, studying to be an anesthetist doctor. After he finished his education, he went back to Syria in 1978; although he had an offer to work in the U.S., he wanted to work in Syria and help the people there. But two months after he went back, he was arrested in a very brutal way. He was just walking in Damascus in the Seven Fountains Square, and was kidnapped by regime members—a military jeep pulled up in front of him, asked if he is Michel Saadé, then took him and drove away. That was the last time he was seen or heard from. “No one knows why Michel was arrested. We heard a lot of stories but we don’t know which is true. The corruption in Syria was so bad that you’d have to pay money to get information. On top of that, no one from the government would admit that Michel was in prison. Every time we’d ask, they’d say there is no one with such a name. Even my mother sent a letter to President Carter asking him to intervene, and the answer from Carter after a few months came that Hafez al-Assad said, ‘We have no such name in our prisons.’ Although we knew he was there, they denied it...maybe also because when they put them in prison they give them phony names...”
“The Seven Fountains Square (Uncle Nabil’s memory),” 2017. Digital drawing with pencil and tape on archival paper, 25 x 34.5 in (63.5 x 87.6 cm) © Christine Gedeon, Aleppo: Deconstruction | Reconstruction, Kerber Verlag
Christine Gedeon was born in Aleppo, Syria, raised in the U.S., and now divides her time between Berlin and New York. The relationship between maps and memory has played a central role in her artwork, from works on canvas to sprawling, site-specific installations, and wall drawings. Her work has appeared in galleries and institutions throughout the world and her book, Aleppo: Deconstruction | Reconstruction, was published in 2020 by Kerber Verlag in Berlin. christinegedeon.com
Aleppo: Deconstruction | Reconstruction originally published in the UN 75th anniversary issue of CENTERPOINT NOW "Are we there yet?”, the publication and ©2020 of World Council of Peoples for the United Nations, co-produced with Streaming Museum.