What’s special is that everyone will find a connection to my story




Interview Sally Ghannoum – Fieldwork


Sally Ghannoum is a filmmaker, singer and performer. We had the pleasure of asking her some questions about her performance which will take place in the Red Star Line Museum. She also gives us a glimpse into her creative and positive way of thinking.



In your performance, The Daughter of Dilbi – Bent el Dilbi, you tell the story of the Dilbi tree. What is this story about?


The Daughter of Dilbi tells about how our cultural centre in Syria, Dilbi, came into being. The story begins with the rare and very old Dilbi tree, which stands in Mashta Al helou in southern Syria. That place was a refuge for many refugees in 2013 and was seen as one of the only safe places in Syria. When in June of that year a branch of the tree broke off, it was a sign for us that nature was crying for the pain of war.


We decided to ask a sculptor to make a sculpture inspired by the broken branch… We called this the statue of birth.


While the sculptor was working on it, we held poetry evenings, sang and danced. Gradually this expanded into a cultural festival that attracts more sympathizers each year. The festival that takes place every year in June in Mashta Al Helou, was the beginning of our cultural centre, Dilbi.


One reason why it has grown so much is because we speak through the language of art. There are no political or religious views that are discussed, it is purely about art.


The story of this tree and its impact, how do you translate this into your performance?


I start with a small presentation about the beginning of the festival and why we are doing this. What’s special is that everyone finds a connection with my story. In everything I tell, there is always something that touches you. Maybe it gives you ideas or makes a real difference in other ways.


I want people to know us, to see what you can create out of pain and misery. Not everything has to be negative. It was such a difficult time, a lot of people lost their families and came to the center without shoes on in the snow. I want to tell the stories of these people. Besides that, I’m going to bring traditional Syrian songs. In the end I will teach the audience a Syrian song that my husband wrote about Dilbi. We will post this on our Facebook page, so people can see that Belgians can also sing Arabic.


So it’s an interactive performance.


Yes, it is. I also ask the audience questions. What would they do if these things happened in their country? I don’t just want to talk myself, I like to start the conversation and let the audience be part of the presentation. These interactions are important.


The most beautiful thing is when people come to me after a performance with tears in their eyes. The positive energy that surrounds us at that moment is amazing. I don’t want them to cry for what my country has had to endure, but it’s very nice to see how they sympathize with the story you bring.


The performance is both spoken word and singing. Is there an aspect you lean more towards, which you prefer?


I like a mix of both. I never quite want to plan my performances either. At the last minute, there are always things I want to change. I just see it as a beautiful meeting with people.


I like to share my stories and music. This combination is very beautiful, it touches people in their hearts. I’m also very open, if I feel I have to cry during a performance, I do. I extend that openness to my audience. They can ask me artistic as well as personal questions or criticize me and discuss things I bring up. In this way we create an open atmosphere, free of tension, where everyone can give his or her opinion.


How important has art been in your life?


I actually studied Law. I did well at school and in Syria you are expected to become a doctor, engineer or lawyer. I chose the latter.


I’ve always been in love with art and music, ever since I was 5 years old. Both my mother and grandfather were artists, both painters. Despite being in the family, they still attached great importance to a university education and the more realistic side of life. Life is also less open to a woman who wants to practice art, where I come from. So it remained a hobby.


When I met my husband, a poet and engineer, he encouraged me and said to me ‘you do what you love’. I then decided that I don’t want to be the person I don’t want to be. I believe that with my art I can better help people and defend their rights.

I believe that with my art I can better help people and defend their rights. At the end of the day I remain an artist and I can’t ignore that.


I don’t want to do it through the law, I don’t want to have limits on my relationships with people. I want to enter their hearts in a good way, create awareness through art and the language of the world, music.


You said you prefer to plan as few performances as possible. What does this feeling do to you, the fact that every night is different from the previous one?


Whatever I would prepare or do, the only thing that can really reward me is the reaction of the audience. When they are happy, so am I. I can’t even describe the feeling after a performance. It’s a feeling of happiness or something that has completed me? Whatever or whoever I miss, my parents, my brother. At that moment, that loss disappears for a moment and the feeling completes me.


[machine translated interview “WAT SPECIAAL IS, IS DAT IEDEREEN WEL EEN CONNECTIE VINDT MET MIJN VERHAAL.”, from the website of Red Star Line Museum