Issam comes from a background of fine art, architecture and theatre design. Born in Suweida in the South of Syria, he trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and at Wimbledon School of Art (London). Since 1990, he has lived and worked in Cambridge, becoming a Bye-Fellow (2007–2011) and Artist-in-Residence at Christ’s College, where he is also a Lector in art.
In 2009, as part of the celebrations of Cambridge University’s 800th anniversary, Issam was invited to design the sets for the play, Let Newton Be!, and for a contemporary dance piece, entitled Light Matters, which was presented in the University Senate House. His work Cambridge Palimpsest, a puzzle box linking time and archaeology, was also published by Cambridge University Press as part of these celebrations, and it was presented to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2012.
Issam’s work has been widely exhibited and collected by public and private collections alike. Sound Palimpsest, a collection of his sketches, inspired in part by the Epic of Gilgamesh and also by language, war and memory, was acquired by the British Museum in 2008. It was exhibited in Iraq’s Past Speaks to the Present, in parallel with the major exhibition Babylon: Myth and Reality (2008–9). In 2011, a collection of Issam’s work was also displayed at the museum, in the exhibition Modern Syrian art at the British Museum (part of the 1st Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture).
Since the 2011 uprising, Issam has been raising awareness and money for projects and aid in Syria. In 2013, he raised funds for the Syria Crisis Appeals of Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) through his exhibition Excavating the Present in Cambridge, and proceeds from Scattered, Gathered, a joint exhibition with Nizar Sabour shown in Kuwait, went to Al Madad Foundation’s education and literacy programs in Aleppo. In 2014, Issam held a solo exhibition called Unearthed, proceeds from which were donated to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and a work inspired by the Syrian crisis, called The dark side of the “unknown” ray, was shown as part of a group show at Dilston Grove in London in May 2015.
Issam’s travelling installation, Another Day Lost is based on Syrian refugee camps was originally developed for the 3rd Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture and was shown in five locations across London (July 2015). Since then, it has been shown on a boat on the River Thames (September 2015), at Trinity Wall Street in New York (December 2015 – January 2016), Twelve Gates Arts in Philadelphia (February 2016) and Alserkal Avenue, Dubai (March 2016), Museum of Archaeology and anthropology, Cambridge (May 2016) and Central European University, Budapest (June 2016).
Funds raised from Another Day Lost will be donated to MSF and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR): donations may be made on the Another Day Lost Justgiving page: www.justgiving.com/teams/anotherdaylost