Deldar Felemez

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
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Interview Location: Zurich, Switzerland
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I am Deldar Felemez, born in 1970 in Syria, Qalmashi.

I used to work in the field of visual and written media, as well as being a poet and plastic artist in Syria.

In Syria, things were great and I drew and everything was fine. Four years ago, I came to Switzerland to live in the city of Zurich.

In Zurich, I knew things would be very difficult, and I needed to make an extra effort to prove myself as an artist. There was also a problem, the problem of language, customs, traditions etc.

Since the first year when I arrived, I have not been to any galleries. I have always been friendly with people who could hold gallery exhibitions for me. I have had an exhibition every year until this year.

The turning point in my life was my exhibition at the Helme House Museum of Contemporary Art in 2019.

2019 was a great year for me and my art. In Zurich, I painted a piece of 100 x 6 meters. It was displayed in a long list of galleries and a committee from the Helme House Museum took my phone number and address and came to visit me.

The committee looked at many of my works and I told them I had completed a painting a day since 2010. They looked at my work and they loved it. They said that a second committee would talk to me and visit too. By September 2019, three committees had visited me, the last one headed by the museum director.

The museum director came, and saw my art pieces. He was surprised and asked me what I did for a living and did I have a job? I told him that I was working on a wall. He liked the idea and asked me to draw some graffiti for them too. He added, “We give you two walls that can be drawn on.” I responded that I did not have a problem with drawing graffiti and that I had great talent for this. Then we agreed on the necessary material etc.

They provided me with everything I needed and ten days before the exhibition, they told me that I could come to draw. I went and there were  materials ready and there were some missing items that I had brought with me. I worked on two walls in the museum, one of them 4x17 meters and the other 4x11 meters. Finishing these two pieces of art  in ten days was a record. Of course, I made a great effort to finish them and I worked until late at night until about 2 or 3 a.m. I was working in the museum and they had given me the key and were very helpful to me.

The two walls were completed and the first question I was asked was how long they had taken me. I replied ten days. The turnout at the exhibition opening was very good. I was with ten other artists on the short list. Until the last moment, I was afraid that they were going to reject me because the other artists were Swiss and mostly over 80 years old. I was lucky and this was my first step to belonging and interacting with Swiss society, specifically in the city of Zurich.

Later, a good number of individuals bought my work and loved it. More than one gallery visited and suggested a collaboration. I was in a position of power and I stated my conditions. I chose the right gallery, the location and the name. I was in the position of deciding everything. I had a group of projects in 2020 that were stopped because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Having several projects and making an agreement with an old and established gallery was very important and was the thing that made me feel I belonged to Swiss society.

Most notably, the Zurich Ministry of Culture came to buy a full month’s worth of my work and displayed it in its offices. Imagine that the Ministry of Culture would do that!

I started to earn a name and a reputation. I have a presence in Swiss art society and I have no fear for my future as a visual artist. Before my exhibition in the Helm House Museum, I was afraid. But that exhibition was a turning point in my life and gave me confidence. I work with more confidence, I share my ideas, vision and project, and I speak from a position of self-confidence and strength. Later, I received invitations from outside Switzerland. For example, I had a call for an exhibition in France, Paris but it was cancelled because of the pandemic. I was disappointed but, most importantly, I continue to draw with confidence. Confidence is important in creating an art piece, even in signing it, in speaking about it and in your social relationships with other people.

The most important event of my life was my exhibition at the Helm House Museum. Everyone who came knew that there was an artist exhibiting who had completed a painting a day. I presented my work in 2017, and that was the moment I became part of Swiss society.

As well as that, there are currently people who translate my poems and this has added to my writing career. I knew from the beginning when I came here that I wouldn’t be able to master the language. I tried to make myself known in the first four or five years, at least five years, by drawing, through my visual art.

The eye has no limits. When somebody sees something beautiful, it moves something within them and they interact with it. Now in 2020, I am in the process of creating a new project. I also make a painting every day which I add Swiss stamps to. Some very old stamps that are between 20 and 80 years old are included. This has given me more confidence and makes me feel that I am on the right track with my connections and my relationships. The exhibition in Helm House Museum in the old district of Zurich was a turning and a belonging point. I had read about historical figures when I was in my twenties and it was a great feeling that they had lived here in places similar to the Helm House museum. There was interaction and there was a sense of responsibility from friends who were counting on my experience. There was a great sense of responsibility not to let them down and to introduce them to my new journey.

The exhibition gave me greater responsibility and I felt that I should work on my tools more so I could evolve as a person and as an artist, and present an updated version of myself as Deldar, as someone who comes from Syria. It is very difficult for someone who comes from another country to a place like Switzerland and find a new opportunity.

I am Deldar Felemez and this is my story of belonging and inclusion in Swiss society.