We partnered with the Middle East Institute to present 'Gardens Speak', an interactive exhibit exploring the stories of Syrian activists by Tania El Khoury.

Across Syria, many gardens conceal the dead bodies of activists and protesters who adorned the streets during the early periods of the uprising. These domestic burials play out a continuing collaboration between the living and the dead. The dead protect the living by not exposing them to further danger at the hands of the regime. The living protect the dead by conserving their identities, telling their stories, and not allowing their deaths to become instruments to the regime.

Gardens Speak is an interactive sound installation containing the oral histories of ten ordinary people who were buried in Syrian gardens. Each narrative has been carefully constructed with the friends and family members of the deceased to retell their stories as they themselves may have recounted it. They are compiled with found audio that evidences their final moments. 

Gardens Speak has been touring since 2014 to Melbourne, Birmingham, Bucharest, Munich, Lancaster, Edinburgh, UK, and London. It was selected for the Artraker Award on art and conflict. 

Gardens Speak and the accompanying program of talks was organized by the Middle East Institute in collaboration with the National Building Museum, with a generous grant from the British Council.

The installation made its USA debut from April 7, 2016 through April 12, 2016 at the National Building Museum.

Public Program Schedule: April 7-8, 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016, 6:00-7:00 pm

A Conversation with Artist Tania El Khoury: Live Art and the Everyday

National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, Washington, DC

Friday, April 8, 2016, 12-1:30 pm

Art for Humanity and Peace Building: Stories from Syria

National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, Washington, DC

Friday, April 8, 2016, 5:30 - 6:30 pm

A Conversation with Tania El Khoury: The Arts as a Global Connector

Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 3700 O Street, NW, 241 Intercultural Center (ICC), Washington, DC

Reviews and Media

'Art is supposed to be universal - and there is no more universal thing than fear of death. Or grief. In Gardens Speak, out of the most specific experience, Tania El Khoury crafts something massive.' – Paul Mason, Channel 4

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

Paul Mason, Channel 4 News Blog

New Internationalist, Canada 

The Age Newspaper, Australia

Artsadmin Artist Bursary Scheme, London


Shortlisted for the Artraker Award 2014

Tania El Khoury is an artist working between London and Beirut. She creates interactive and challenging performances in which the audience is an active collaborator. Tania performed and staged interactive installations in various spaces ranging from the British Museum to the Mediterranean sea, a cable car, a shipping container and an old church in Beirut once used as a military base during the civil war. Her solo work has toured internationally, and for which she is the recipient of the Total Theatre Innovation Award and the Arches Brick Award. Her productions has been presented at Artsadmin, Next Wave Festival, Fierce Festival, Battersea Arts Centre, ICA, Bluecoat, Watermill Art Centre, Tanzquartier Wien, and City of Women amongst others.


By: Tania El Khoury

Production Manager: Jessica Harrington

Research Assistant and Writer (Arabic): Keenana Issa

Calligraphy,Tombstones Design and Publication Design: Dia Batal

Set Design: Abir Saksouk

Set Construction SPLEX Flexible Designs & Presentation

Sound Recording & Editing: Khairy Eibesh (Stronghold Sound)

Hassan Hassan's text was written by his friend Abo Gabi

English Translation: Ziad Abu-Rish

Sound Programming: Barbara Lambert

Recording Assistant (English): Petra Serhal

Voice Artists: Zac Allaf, Khaled Omran, Mais Istanbuli, Khairy Eibesh, Abir Saksouk, Petra Serhal, Hadi Deaibes, Ahmad Hafez and Hani Al Sawah

Singing: Abo Gabi 'Huna al-Yarmouk', 'Ya Sham'; Nibras Chehayed 'Yuma Mwali al-Hawa' from Tomorrow I Will Pass by Abounaddara; Laura Whitticase 'Yuma Mwalial-Hawa'

Guitar in Ahmad Bawabeh's sound piece: Majd Hamwi

Co-commissioned by Fierce Festival, Next Wave and Live at LICA. Developed through the Artsadmin Artists’ Bursary Scheme.

Supported by Arts Council of England and British Council.

In Washington, DC: organized by the Middle East Institute with a generous grant from the the British Council.