Reviewed by Danielle Desouza
Now Is the Time to Say Nothing is an immersive film installation, portraying the Syrian War through the story of Reem Karssli, a Syrian woman and one of the leading artists of the production, and her family. It is the product of a four-year collaboration with MAYK, an organisation that creates public projects throughout the year, a group of young people from the Young Vic, and Caroline Williams, the fellow lead artist.
The slogan on my ticket read: “To inspire people to take creative risks, to shape the future,” and that is exactly what the screening accomplished.
We entered a dark room and were instructed to pick an armchair and put on headphones. We were sat in front of an individual TV screen and instructed on what to do. Already, this performance was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Images of the Syrian war, as well as those involved in the project were introduced through a series of Skype calls between Reem and the students, and clips of Reem and her family. One poignant moment occurred when the screen went black and the sounds of bombs danced between my ears, followed by a scene of one of Reem’s nieces crying because she had lost hope because of the war. It hit me at the core, sparking how unforgiving the war is to all Syrians.
Around halfway into the screening, we were all taken out of the comfort of our own space and asked to form a circle. Some of us kept straight faces, but I, as well as most of those around me, succumbed to laughing, which is a quintessentially British thing to do in awkward situations. The awkwardness only lasted for a brief moment as we were then directed to close our eyes and walk around. Suddenly, fragmented pieces of paper fell on us. It felt like time stopped.
I opened my eyes and was able to observe a few things at this point. Firstly, all of the armchairs were different— different in style, different in design and different in size. What I took away from this was that everyone’s reactions and takeaways would be distinct. That is why the production was so powerful. Secondly, by becoming more uncomfortable as the screening went on— through standing up and huddling close together, we were able to somewhat sympathise with the plight of Syrians fleeing the war for the safety of Europe. We could all feel the anguish of the unknown, unsure of how long we had to sit together for, in darkness both literally and metaphorically. The sound of waves echoed around the room. Images of the Syrian refugees appeared on the TV screens, crying from leaving their “safe space,” to which Reem reacted with: “Thank you for joining me on this journey, even though you had no choice… sometimes, you don’t have a choice.”
It links back to the reason the production was created; it is a “provocation against armchair passivity.” It is simply not enough to rely on the portrayal of Syrian refugees in the media. Often, the human side of the conflict is void from the narrative. Ultimately, we are all humans and wars should unite all humans in empathy. We should not be afraid to work together for the greater good.
Reem’s story also provided a sense of hope. She is now living in Germany, adjusting to her new surroundings and learning the language. However, her parents remain in Damascus, whilst some of her family are in Jordan. Her inspirational piece is dedicated to her mother, who I am sure is also filled with the same hope as her daughter - the hope that will one day unite them both.
I would highly recommend the production. It will capture even the coldest of hearts, and it is only around until the 19th October so get your tickets now!
Now Is The Time To Say Nothing is at the Battersea Arts Centre. Details here.