Issam Kourbaj

Issam comes from a background of fine art, architecture and theatre design. He was born in Syria and trained in Damascus, Leningrad and London. Since 1990, he has lived and worked in Cambridge, and was the Artist in Residence and a Bye-Fellow at Christ’s College, and is currently a Lector in Art there. As part of Cambridge University’s 800th anniversary, Issam was invited to design the sets for Let Newton Be! and for Light Matters. His Cambridge Palimpsest was published by the CUP, and was presented to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

His work is in many private and public collections. Sound Palimpsest was acquired by the British Museum (BM) and was exhibited in Iraq’s Past Speaks to the Present and Modern Syrian Art.  

His recent work has related to the Syrian Crisis and reflects on the destruction of his cultural heritage. Another Day Lost: simultaneous installations across five sites in London, was constructed out of discarded materials and encircled by burnt matches, each representing a day lost since the Syrian uprising. The sites loosely reflected the geographic pattern of refugee camps outside the borders of Syria. It was later shown on the HQS Wellington warship in London, then in NYC, Philadelphia, Art Dubai, Cambridge and Budapest.

To mark the sixth anniversary of the uprising, Issam was joined by the poet Ruth Padel to launch Dark Water, Burning World at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Several editions of this artwork are currently on display at the Penn Museum, at the BM, and in NYC. It was at the V&A for the Refugee Week 2017, and is going to be part of the BM’s upcoming major exhibition Faith and Society.

His work is actively raising awareness of the plight of his people, and funds, for Oxfam, MSF and UNHCR.