Belfast Telegraph

Review: Lost Syrian voices speak from beyond the grave in moving sound installation

Gardens Speak, Tania El Khoury Shaftesbury Square Review

By Grania McFadden

We remove our shoes and don oversized plastic macs, before choosing a card on which a name is written in Arabic.

I choose Ayat, a young Syrian girl fiercely opposed to the regime there. It's her story I will hear in one of the 10 graves lit by lanterns.

Each grave hides a different story, another life.

Gardens Speak resurrects the dead for a little while, so they can tell us what it was to be them.

A babble of voices begins - softly at first, then more insistently. We match the name on our cards to one of the tombstones.

Then we scrabble in the earth, digging down until we're close to the voices, which dwindle into just one - for me, it's Ayat's voice which whispers from beyond the grave.

To hear her, I must lie full-length in the earth.

The sound installation from Tania El Khoury, pictured, reconstructs the oral histories of those who are buried not in graveyards, but in the gardens of ordinary Syrian homes.

Funerals too often alert the Assad regime to the whereabouts of rebels.

Cemeteries too often become the focus of attacks. Silence and secrecy surrounds many of the burials there. Listening to Ayat's story, my face pressed into the soil, is a physical and emotional experience.

She was just 14 when her much-loved brother was killed.

She longed to be a revolutionary like him, but being a woman, she could not.

She is buried in her mother's garden - denied the martyr's funeral offered to her brother.

When she finishes speaking, it's difficult not to think of other graves, closer to home - in bogs and on beaches - where the dead were buried in silence and in secret.

Their stories remain unheard.

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