ANIMATION ARTIST AND FILMMAKER
I got to know you better …
Ever since I moved to Copenhagen, I have frequently met the acquaintance of Syrians. We all share some misplaced state of mind and each one of us is experiencing a separate set of traumas, sometimes we can understand each other by a look in the eyes. And many other times we don’t … I think often we don’t share the same values nor do we come from similar milieu back in our hometowns …
I always visualize getting to know a human as a gift wrapped in multiple layers … it’s not a common culture that you need to stereotype when you meet people form the same country. You have the culture of the family that each individual represents, what he learned and the values he/she been raised with and exposed to, the culture of their home, where and how they were shaped into the person they are today … there are layers and layers you need to unfold and consider before labeling and boxing … allow me to make it clear here: Syrian civil society is a remarkable patchwork …
But no matter how large or narrow the gap is, you may find a niche group of artists you can relate to, where you can find some sort of common traumas in between you, obviously its related to the fact that today’s world is about communities and not countries and borders … Wael is one of those who I can relate to … . I never actually had a lengthy conversation with him before this event; the event was dedicated to him and a space for him to present himself through his work.
What: Syrisk Kulturcafe – Mød Wael Toubaji /// Syrian Cultural cafe – Meet Wael Toubaji
Where : LiteraturHaus, Møllegade 7, CPH Nørrebro
Who: The Syrian Cultural Institute in Denmark /// Det Syriske Kulturinstitut i Danmark
When: 16 October 2017
To start with I was stunned to be honest with the volume of Danes in the hall, normally an event organized by Syrians you may find Syrians applauding and encouraging a fellow Syrian, what grabbed my attention is the number of curious young Danes among the audience and it contributed nothing but joy and hope to my core.
Throughout the event, I was amazed with the amount of decent work he carries in his baggage. He presented himself through the timeline of his animation work and took the audience in a beautiful tour on a camel ride presenting the moment he started working, unfolding his passion until his latest work. I was thrilled how beautifully he grows into who he is now, hence i really felt the need to conduct this interview …
Please find below Wael’s honest, sincere answers which come straight form the heart.
Can you me tell about yourself in few words? What’s your passion in life, or in different words, what’s your story?
My name is Wael and I come from a small village called Al-Nabek in Syria – it is located on the highway between Homs and Damascus. I had a complete free childhood in the wild, I would say, and I am used to sleeping surrounded with the sound of barking dogs and wild animals.
I studied fine arts in Damascus University, painting department – I had lot of passion for that. While I was studying I got introduced to animation, and that’s where I found out my passion.
My animation skills are somehow self-taught. I got an internship in a production house called Tiger Production in Damascus for a year and a half, then moved around other companies, until the moment I decided to work on short films, my intention was to learn as much as I can from this technique. I remember that I always wanted to study abroad, I wanted to know more about animation, and during my period working with many friends my intention was always to develop myself by watching and trying to create, analyzing their work and try to do something similar. I used to work and collaborate with many diverse animators. We used to brainstorm and produce work together. Workshops was one of the other mediums I developed through.I started to work on Shadows which was the first official production which I was involved in with Hussam Hadad. It was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture in Damascus in 2008 when it was the Arab Capital of Culture. Shadows got the chance to be screened in a cinema in Damascus and traveled and participated in many different festivals.
I recall very well two years after the production … I was involved in a a conversation with a guy and he kept complimenting an animation movie made by a Syrian artist that he recently watched and kept pushing me to watched it , and when he described what was it about [and I realized it was mine] I was thrilled to hear that my work had such an impact.
In 2011 I moved to Istanbul as I didn’t want to join the Syrian Army a few month after the revolution started, then I moved back and forth between Beirut and Istanbul until I end up in Copenhagen .
During the period when I lived in Beirut and Istanbul I worked on many short films, two official films and others were small experimental projects of commissioned work. During this period I tried to find commercial work, but that wasn’t easy – they never liked my style and my work in the commercial world, therefore I got to learn how to make a living with alternative projects rather than commercial stuff.
And that’s when I focused more on writing my own films and finding the right funding for my projects. Most of the times was about cases I believe in and I do think its very important to relate and personally feel the project in order to create from the heart, and that’s what I worked on during this period. You can find the highlights in the two films Metaphor and One Hand. Those two films took part in many different film festivals and recently they were screened on the TV channel Arte in French and German.
How do you consider yourself and animation in general when it comes to adding value to society with your work
I have learned how to tell societies’ stories, and to tell the stories that they want to tell, not what I want to tell about them because I realized lately through the media for example … the media tries to tell the story that the audience are expecting to watch and even a little bit more exciting sometimes. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be, we need to hear the stories as they are.
Animation is a way to communicate across different cultures, and I believe contributing to society through animation is the best way I can do that … this is what adding value means in my work and this is what I try my best to achieve.
What are the challenges you are facing nowadays in your field?
A new country a new culture a new adaptation. I used to have my own network where I can be myself and today I have to re-build my whole network from scratch.
There are many challenges, new country and new culture, adding to this that the competition here is extremely high and as a self-taught that makes my challenge so much bigger, and then I am a foreigner here so I am still facing many restriction regarding movement between countries, and the tuition fees that are always five times more expensive for the non EU citizens.
I also have the challenge of learning the language and understanding the system in general (CVR, tax, moms, unions etc.). Lastly, since I have a refugee status here it makes things much more difficult for me because many people look at refugees as poor, weak, and in need of help, or unable to do anything, and unable even to compete. So during the last couple of years I was just working hard to prove that being a refugee is a status on paper otherwise it is a plus, an extra experience, and learning about a new culture that would only add much more value to the individuals.
At last I am realizing with time that Arts has a very limited and small space, and very little appreciation here. All the artists I know end up counting on social support, as an example, the government and Funen municipality are trying hard to close down Funen art academy (which is one of very few arts academies in Denmark) they are trying to shut it down because it is going to produce more artists for Denmark and they will use more social support so it’s better to shut it down so those students can find another “useful job”!
For that reasons I want to leave Denmark for another place where people are more open-minded and able to adopt new ideas and appreciate creativity.
Who inspires you?
Visually I am inspired by many artists as I mentioned earlier, but otherwise its always about the stories that I hear and the individuals in the stories that help me create … those are the ones who inspires me, and sometimes memories. Many of my friends have been detained some of them have disappeared some of the others have been killed – I didn’t experience any of this at least I feel obliged to do something for their memory and honor them … this is my main focus and i am trying my best, trying to work with many other stories in parallel in order to gain as much experience as I can, so that I produce these films honoring my friends in the best way I can … those are my inspirations.
Where do you see yourself in the near future?
I don’t really know because my ways and my roads are shifting and changing very fast, it’s hard to tell about the near future, but the late future I think and I hope I will be teaching animation in an animation school somewhere in the Middle East and why not in Syria … but who knows.
Please find below the timeline and highlights of Wael’s voyage in dates and posters and for now, I leave you with a few questions:
Why does an immigrant need to put multiple efforts to be recognized and accepted as a professional artist in instead of participating as an ordinary when he/she migrates?
Why can’t our work be loud enough to be who we are and make starting from zero a little softer?
How can we break those walls into the reality … of today’s life?