Issam Kourbaj

Visual Artist

Lector in Art at Christ’s College, Cambridge University

Visual Arts Centre, Christ’s College, Cambridge. CB2 3BU. United Kingdom


Languages spoken

Arabic, English and Russian


1993 – 94        Wimbledon School of Art, London, Theatre Design/ Scenography

1985 – 90        Repin Institute of Fine Arts, Leningrad (St Petersburg), Fine Art & Architecture

1980 – 84        Institute of Fine Arts, Damascus, Syria, Fine Art/Painting

Works in Public Collections

Dark Water, Burning World, is a collection of miniature boats (made from re-purposed discarded bicycle steel mudguards), extinguished matches and clear resin.  An artwork inspired by the 5th century BC Syrian Sea vessels in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK, and deals with the way escaped Syrians now carry visible and invisible scars scorched into them by the separation from their homeland. acquired by the Departments  of Britain, Europe & Middle East  of the British Museum, 2018

Sound Palimpsest

Loose-leaf pages originally making up a wall installation. Ink and collage on paper. Acquired by the Department of the Middle East of the British Museum, 2008; displayed in Iraq’s past speaks to the present, an exhibition coinciding with and complementing the Museum’s exhibition Babylon: Myth and Reality, 2009, and Modern Syria Art, 2011


Acquired in 1997 by the Department of Prints and Drawings of the British Museum, containing studies made in St Ives, Italy and Spain between Sept 1994 and March 1995

A Cambridge Palimpsest

The official gift to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from the City of Cambridge, to mark their first visit on 28 November 2012

Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture, St Petersburg, Russia.

Contemporary Art Platform, CAP Kuwait.

Private and collections in England, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Syria and USA


1998 – ongoing         Artist in Residence, Bye Fellow at Christ’s College, Cambridge University

1992 Jul – Sep           Artist in Residence at Na–Bolom Museum, Chiapas, Mexico

1982 – 84                    Artist in Residence at the Soviet Culture Centre, Damascus

Art intervention

2018 Apr                    Dark Water, Burning World, at the Rotch Library, MIT, USA, in conjunction with Translating Destruction

2018 Mar                    Strike, Life performance, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2018 Mar                    Dark Water, Burning World, at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. 1000 miniature boats to mark the 7th anniversary of the Syrian Uprising 

2017 Nov                    Dark Water, Burning World, in collaboration with Poet Ruth Padel The Lookout tower Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017

2017 Oct                    Dark Water, Burning World, in collaboration with Poet Ruth Padel. Arts & Humanities Festival 2017World| Service.
Kings College, London

2017 Sep                    Strike, Life performance, Penn Museum in Philadelphia

2017 July                    Unearthed, part of Subbak Festival at The British Museum

2017 June                  Dark Water, Burning WorldVictoria & Albert Museum

2017 June                  Scars, part of Living Historiesat The British Museum

2017 Mar                    Dark Water, Burning WorldFitzwilliam Museum

2017 April                   LostMuseum of Classical Archaeology

Selected solo shows

2016 July                    Another Day Lost: 1,906 and counting …Budapest

2016 May                   Another Day Lost: 1,888 and counting … MAA Cambridge

2016 April                   Another Day Lost: 1,849 and counting …Alwan for the Arts, New York

2016 Mar                    Another Day Lost: 1826 and counting …Art Week Dubai

2016 Feb – Mar         Another Day Lost: 1808 and counting …Twelve Gates Arts, Philadelphia

2015 Dec -2016 JanAnother Day Lost: 1735 and counting …Trinity Wall Street, New York

2015 July                    Another Day Lost: 1579 and counting …5 London locations, Shubbak 2016

2014 Sep – Oct         Unearthed (In Memoriam)St Peter’s Church, Cambridge

2014 July                    Unearthedto support MSF Syria Crisis Appeal, P21 Gallery, London

2014 Jan                    Scattered, GatheredArtist books, with Nizar Sabour, CAP Kuwait, Kuwait

2013 Mar                    Excavating the Presentto support Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal

2010 Nov                    Intimate DistancesCamera Obscura images of Christ’s College, Cambridge

2005 July                    The EyeCone, Cambridge, a Camera Obscura spire for Great St Mary’s Church

2004 July                    Last light, first light, Open Studios, Cambridge

2003 July                    Palimpsest, Open Studios, Cambridge

2002 July                    Recent work, Open Studios, Cambridge

2001 July                    Constant change, a farewell to my studio in Albert Street, works from 1990–2000

2000 Nov                    is / am, in collaboration with my then three–year–old son Mourad, Cambridge

2000 July                    Juxtaposition, with the Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs

1999 Nov                    “+ / –”,printing plates. July, KWAD, Open Studios, Cambridge

1998 Nov                    Sketch, with Fateh Moudarres. Open Studios, Cambridge

1996 July                    Old Laboratory, Newnham College, and Waterstone’s Booksellers

1995 July                    Round Church Studio, Cambridge

1994 April                   Churchill College, Cambridge

1993 Feb                    Emmanuel College, Cambridge

1992                            City Theatre, Tuxtla, Chiapas, Mexico

1984                            The Soviet Culture Centre, Damascus, Syria

Selected group shows

2018 April -May         Actions. The image of the world can be different(part 1 &2), Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2017 Nov- 2018 Apr  Living with gods at the British Museum

2017 April                   Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories From Syria and IraqPenn Museum, Philadelphia

2016 Sep                    Movement of the people– 2016, Art Exchange Gallery, University of Essex

2016 April                   Into Boundless space I leapMaxwell Centre, Cambridge

2015 Sep                    Another Day Lost: 1649 and counting ….Off-The-Wall, HQS Wellington, London

2015 May – Jun         Between Thought and SpaceDilston Grove, London

2014 Sep – Nov         Between Thought and Space 1Camberwell Space, London

2011 July –2012 Jan Modern Syrian Art, British Museum

2011 Mar – May        Artists for Kettle’s YardKettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2010 April                   Modern Times: responding to chaos, De La Warr Pavilion

2008 Nov–Mar 09    Iraq’s past speaks to the presentThe British Museum

2008 13 to 23 Nov     The ING Discerning Eye exhibition 2008 , Invited Artist

2006 Nov                    Kettle’s Yard Open 2006, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2006                            Lines of Enquiry, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2003 Aug                   Cadogan Contemporary Gallery, London

2003 July                   RegArts Plus Gallery, Paris

2003 June                  Babylon Gallery, Ely, Cambridgeshire

2000                            Kettle’s Yard Open 2000, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

1997                             Kettle’s Yard Open 97Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

1991                             Westminster Gallery, London

1989                             Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture, Leningrad, Russia

1988                            International Cultural Friendship Centre, Moscow, Russia

1987                            Aurora Publishers, Leningrad, Russia

1986                            Institute of Russian Language, Baku, Azerbaijan

1984 – 85                    Association of Fine Art, Damascus, Syria


2011                            River Severnand Cam, Glass sculptures in collaboration with Richard Bray

2009                            Ten portable Camerae Obscurae, and six Camera Obscura photographs of Kettle’s Yard, as part of Upside down/inside out  a retrospective of artists’ interventions within the house

2009                            Light Within, Life Without: ten Camerae Obscurae, five adult-size and five child-size, for viewing on the University Botanic Garden as part of its Summer Garden Party, celebrating the University’s eighth centenary

2001                            Imprint: garden structure, private commission, North Cambridge

2000                            Without the action there is no reason, commissioned by the then Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge, Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern

1996                            Migration: 17 wooden abstract structures at Waterstone’s Booksellers

1992                            Dream: abstract mural for Emmanuel College, Cambridge


2011                            Let Newton Be!Stage production by Menagerie Theatre, UK & USA Spring Tour.

2009                            Light Matter contemporary dance performance at the University Senate House, celebrating 800 Years of Science through Art

2009                            Let Newton Be!Theatre production by Menagerie Theatre, in Trinity College. Cambridge, and subsequently in the University’s Lady Mitchell Hall

2009                            Light Reproductionan installation to accompany the conference ‘In Vitro Human Embryos’ at Christ’s College Cambridge

2008                            Liquid fire:an installation to accompany Gavin Alexander’s reading of Book I of Milton’s Paradise Lost, at the English Faculty, University of Cambridge

Works on Loan

1995 – 2000                Select paintings from my times in Mexico, Russia & England, exhibited at the residence of Prof. Sir Aaron Klug, former President of the Royal Society

Limited Edition

2009                            A Cambridge Palimpsesta layered map puzzles, in collaboration with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and the letterer Jon Harris; published by CUP

2010                            Intimate Distances, a collaborative work, images of Christ’s College: exteriors projected into historic interiors by pinhole, recorded by digital photography

Teaching Experience

2017 – ongoing          Life Drawing classes at Royal Drawing School

2010 – 2016                “The Making of Art”Seminars, Dept of History of Art. Cambridge University

2010 – 2014                Design Review, Department of Architecture, Cambridge University

2008                            RMJM Architects, Cambridge, experimental drawing workshops

2000 – 2011                Visiting Artist at the Department of Architecture, Cambridge University

2003 –06                     Visiting Artist at the Department of Engineering, Cambridge University

1990 – 2017                Fine Art Tutor at Cambridge School of Visual &Performing Arts, Cambridge.

Sporadic Cambridge workshops in: Kettle’s Yard House and Gallery, the Arts Theatre, the Institute for Manufacturing, the Institute of Astronomy, Botanic Garden, in five museums (Fitzwilliam, Whipple, Sedgwick, Zoology, Anthropology & Archaeology), two public studios (White House Arts and Cambridge Artworks Studios), at 2005 and 2006 University Science Festivals, and at 2008 and 2009 University Festivals of Ideas.


2009 Dec                    Analemmaanimation with Dr Nicholas Mee, Plus Magazine

2009 Nov                    Transmutations, workshop with poet Ruth Padel on Word and Image, held in Christ’s College, Cambridge

2009 Sep                    Revisiting the Familiar, workshop with phenomenological psychotherapist and psychiatrist Dr Miles Clapham, held at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2009 July                    Learning to See, with the poet Helen Mort, held at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2008 Mar                    The Planets, creative arts-science workshops with astronomer Dr Carolin Crawford, held at Cambridge University Institute of Astronomy

2006 July                    Drawing with the paleontologist Dr Jenny Clack, conducted at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2006 Mar                    The Wonderful World of Buckminster Fuller, part of Starting at Zeroworkshop with engineers Allan McRobie, Simon Guest and Bob Connolly, held at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

Public talks

2018 Apr                    Drawing on Erasure Translating Destruction MIT, USA

2014 Oct                    In conversation with Andrew Nairne Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2017 June                  With Ruth Padel and Louisa Macmillan Victoria & Albert Museum

2017 May                   With Ruth Padel Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge

2017 Mar                    With Venetia Porter Uprising artYorkshire Sculpture Park

2017 Mar                    Seminar on Performance and Visual Culture, Queen Mary, University of London

2017 Mar                    With Ruth Padel to mark the 6th anniversary of the Syrian Uprising. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

2017 Mar                    TED x UAL Homeland: drawing on erasure

2016 Nov                    With Dr. Dominic Johnson Sacred Homeland Festival, London

2016 Oct                    With Jess Twyman Art Exchange Gallery

2014 Oct                    In conversation with Andrew Nairne. Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

2014 Jul                      Unearthedevent with Venetia Porter. P21 Gallery, London

2012 Feb                    Tracing my journey Alwan for the Arts, New York 

2011 Dec                    Modern Syrian ArtThe British Museum.

2008 Nov                    Proposals for new Art Installations, Homerton College, Cambridge University.

2008 Feb                    My Journey as an artist, Christ’s College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge University.

2006 Nov                    The EyeCone Project, Great St Mary’s Church, City seminar  CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) Cambridge.

2006 May                   The EyeCone Project, Martin Centre for Architectural & Urban Studies, Department of Architecture, Cambridge University.

2006 Mar                    The EyeCone Project, Lady Mitchell Hall, Science Festival Cambridge University

Media Coverage

2018                            Alive in the UniverseNature Middle East

2017                            The artist whose work speaks of the plight of millions Cambridge University

2016                            An Art Installation Reflects on the Syrian Crisis and Extinguished Hopes New York Times

2015                            Another Day Lostat Trinity Wall Street Huffington Post

2015                            Lighting a Match for Every Day of the Syrian Uprising Hyperallergic

2015                            Syrian Artist Issam Kourbaj’s Installation Another Day Lost Continues Street Art NYC

2015                            Art installation turns garbage into advocacy for Syrian refugees Anglican News

2015                            Artist Measures Days Lost in the Lives of Syrian Refugees Tribeca Trib

2015                            Art exhibit renders refugee camp in miniature, Christiane Amanpour CNN

2015                            An art installation on Syrian refugee camps BBC World Service News

2015                            Lilliput for Syria’s refugees: An artist is pricking consciencesin the West End Chatham House

2014                            Issam Kourbaj: I worry about family and friends in Syria The Times

2014                            Outpouring of grief Gulf News

2014                            Unearthed: Syrian Artist Responds to War in His Homeland Huffington Post

2014                            Monocle Radio

2014                            Art is my way to recompose my lifeAlquds

2012                            British Museum showcases Syrian artists’ take on art, politics and brutalityArabnews

2008                            From Syria’s Mountains to Cambridge Spires Cambridge University

2008                            Christ’s Artist work on show at the British Museum Cambridge University

2001                            Sins of the Fathers, essay by Andy Martin Tate Art Magazine

2001 Apr                    Imagination, creativity, and human mind, BBC Open University

2000 Nov                   Helping dad with his work, article by Andy Martin, the Guardian the Guardian

2000 Oct                    Work in progressBBC Radio 3.

2000 Sept                  Issam Kourbaj and Cambridge University Collection of Air Photographs Antiquity Magazine

1998 Aug                   Road from Damascus, profile by Andy Martin The Independent on Sunday