This Cart Of Sweets Could Be The Solution To The Syrian Refugee Crisis
A French artist has created an installation of millions of sweets as a statement about the displacement of refugees from Syria.
Before the conflict broke out in Syria, you would see carts selling traditional, colourful sweets in every souk and on every street corner. Now this trivial but precious part of daily life has been washed away, along with every other normality, for millions of Syrians.
French designer and curator Benjamin Loyauté is behind a ground-breaking political installation called Le Bruit des Bonbons (The Noise of Sweets), which explores the power of nostalgia at a time of crises. He has created one-million tiny pink rose-flavoured meringue sweets in the shape of an ‘Eye Idol’, which he calls the ‘Louloupti’. The Louloupti is inspired by a typical Syrian candy, Qabaqib Ghawar, which were ubiquitous in the Al-Hamidiyah souk. “This little meringue goodie served as a model for the Louloupti for its simplicity, how it is embraced by all social categories. You find it in souks, and piled on carts,” says Loyauté.
Loyauté explains that the sweets are a universal communicator that humanise relations between individuals. “It is a sweet that tackles the power of language of everyday objects and, in particular, the confectionery culture in Syria. It is like an agent that sanctifies the commonplace in the sense that it makes an insignificant object striking and ‘extraordinary’. With the creation of this consumable utilitarian sculpture, I am also addressing Syria’s intangible heritage,” he says. The Louloupti serve to create a Proustian connection where the past is enveloped in a material object or sensation. It is through confectionery that the installation aims to evoke memories that live through time and survive the horrors of war. “The Louloupti weaves time frames, recalling and extending the time of a before. It reawakens the culture of the ordinary and the shared memories of Syrians scarred by what is already several years of war, as if to preserve the freedom of a fleeting smile, fleeting, but oh how necessary, when death is an everyday occurrence,” says Loyauté.
The Louloupti is a fictional sweet, but it is linked to the history of Syria in different ways. Barbara Casavecchia, co-author of the book written about Loyauté’s project, explains: “‘Loulou’ is a pet name given to a child, while ‘pti’ ends Arabic words to highlight the strength of a deep link and to weave an emotional bond between lovers, mothers and sons, or friends. Together, they form a nonsensical, exotic brand.” Its shape also recalls the tiny mysterious terracotta amulets dug up from the 4th century BC, named the Eye Idols. Discovered in 1937 by Max Mallowan, the husband of Agatha Christie, they have intrigued ever since.
Loyauté showed the sweets in several installations this year and used them to create a short film called The Astounding Eyes of Syria, shown at Somerset House during the London Design Biennale. For the film, he took the sweets to a shop in a souk in south Lebanon and filled big glass jars sitting on dusty shelves as though they had always been there. The film shows a confectioner, casually winding his watch, a television set playing nonchalantly in the background, a glimpse of humdrum life before the conflict, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. “Through fiction, I increase our ability to see the reality,” he says.
At his installation at Casino Luxembourg earlier in the year, Loyauté presented the sweets in a brass trolley and invited visitors to taste them. The significance of the brass, he says, is a symbol of everyday life. “It’s the sound of skilled workers, producing things, the alchemy of a hive, making things, sometimes inlaid with gold and silver, from Mosul in Iraq to Damascus. Since the mid-18th century this alloy has become the living material of accessories and tools, the aesthetic and emotional part of ritual, everyday output. It is of the souks, it is part of daily Syrian life and, like anything, a visual point of reference taken for granted.”
At the London Design Biennale, he installed a vending machine selling sachets of Louloupti, the proceeds of which went to a charity supporting literacy initiatives for refugee children. He is hoping to persuade an international sweet manufacturer to produce the Louloupti permanently, proceeds of which would go to the Syrian people.
“The challenge is to spread an unlimited edition of the candy all over the world and to use a method to sell it. Part of the proceeds will go to displaced Syrian families and refugees and the rest to the protection of the country’s immense cultural heritage,” explains Loyauté. “The Louloupti could be the new candy to buy, transforming the karyotype of mass production into a measure and study of a new ‘geo-semantic activity’ of a radical new story in design and the food-processing industry.”
A collection of postcards formed part of one exhibition. After spending time in Syria, Loyauté asked his Syrian friends to send him postcards with their memories of sweets, to show how objects have a perlocutionary power. In the end, he received almost 400 cards from Syria, Lebanon, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Canada and the UK, from people reliving their fond childhood memories, so often linked to birthday parties and happy occasions.
One Syrian woman, recalling the street carts she would walk past every day in her old life, said to Loyauté: “I never ate them. But now I miss them.”