When we were young, we often passed by this massive, old and strange building, which uncontrollably belched smoke from its chimneys. We would hear strange and frightening sounds coming from inside. We were bewildered and wondered what was going inside that forbidding place. Later, we learned that it was an electrical generator pumping out power that was sent through the wires that we could see in the streets, reaching our homes and schools to supply us with lighting and the electrical energy needed for appliances. We didn’t understand how this process worked at the time, however we were in awe of the secrets that this mighty building held.
Time passed and as we grew up the march of progress brought to the city of Aleppo an improved infrastructure. That grand building ceased to pump smoke and the generators went silent. Inexplicably the building was abandoned, left deserted, and became an empty and desolate monolith in the heart of Aleppo. When we enquired about the old electricity building, we were informed that the energy consumption needs of Aleppo required the closure of that station and a new, larger and modern generator had been built to replace it in the Ain al-Tel area of Aleppo.
Again years later, one day in May, I was surprised to receive an invitation card for The International Women’s Art Festival to be held in this very same building. I thought that there must be a mistake. But all the posters, around the city confirmed this to be true. When I went to this art festival and opening ceremony I found that this huge and once desolate place had been brought back to life. The building was alive with crowds of people, all the walls covered with art work in the form paintings and photos created by artists from all over the world. I walked with the other visitors among the engines, the open pits and machine oil spots on the floor, enjoying the beautiful artistic work. The startling contrast added charm to this international cultural phenomenon. This mighty structure, once a great source of electrical power, sadly negected during a long sleep had been transformed into one of the most important artistic and intellectual gathering places in Aleppo.
The head of the organizing committee for this process is Mr. Issa Touma. He is a photgrapher who has devoted his life to art and to raising the profile of his country, Syria, in the international cultural and artistic areana. He works non stop to organize art exhibitions, particularly photography exhibits, sparing no effort, with great energy and commitment. This was not the first time he accomplished such an achievement for he was the person who recognized the potential of Aleppo’s archeological treasure, the Shibani Building. Here to, he transformed it to a meeting place for all the artists who gathered from all over the world, to participate, to exhibit their paintings and photos, to dialogue with Aleppo public, to attend musical concerts, lectures and to initiate literary discussions.And so it was that these deserted buildings became the cultural gathering places for the all peoples.
The latest Interntional Photography Gathering, which was held in Septemer 2002 in the Old Electricity Building was a great success. Those responsible for organizing this cutural exchange showed great energy and vision. The Patron of the Photography Gathering, Prime Minister Miro took the time to preside at the oppening along with many ambassadors and dignitaries who reside in our flourishing country.
During this two week cultural experience many international photgraphers brought their experience to this rare cultural exchange in this beautiful building. The building was brought back to life with the photography exhibitions, music concerts and discussions. We all hope that the Photgraphy Gathering will be an example to be followed. The transformation of this old deserted place into an art exhibition space was an innovation that deserves recognition and evaluation from those responsible officers in the administration of our great country