“Painting on death” in war-torn Syria
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As the war in Syria drags on, its citizens must cope with the so-called new normal of violence, shortages, air raids and lack of basic amenities. This is the story of one Syrian artist, who uses old artillery shells and casings to create something beautiful in the besieged suburb of Douma.
Akram Abu Al-Fawz (Mohamad Duma) decorates fallen artillery shells using a traditional Syrian style of swirling arabesques. (all photos in this article are from Mohamad Duma's Facebook page.)
As the war in Syria drags on, its citizens must cope with the so-called new normal of violence, shortages, air raids and lack of basic amenities. This is the story of one Syrian artist, who uses old artillery shells and casings to create something beautiful in the besieged neighbourhod of Douma.
Located about 10 kilometres from the centre of Damascus, the suburb of Douma is home to sympathisers of the Syrian uprising that began in 2011. Its 50,000 residents -- including artist Akram Abu Al-Fawz -- have paid dearly for their support of the rebels.
In 2012, the Syrian government forces clashed in with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Douma's streets: it was “urban warfare”. Al-Fawz’s home was burned by regime troops and, like many of her neighours, he was forced to flee to another part of the city with his family.
The FSA took back the area later that year and have remained in control since.
In response, the regime has enacted a punishing blockade on the city, trapping thousands of civilians. There are frequent reports of government bombardments on Douma, and Al-Fawz and his family have been forced to move multiple times because of shelling. In 2013, activists accused the government of using chemical weapons on the civilian population.
Last month, twelve people, including a child, were killed when the army shelled a crowded market place. These are just the most recent of Douma’s countless civilian casualties. In May 2014, the World Health Organization estimated that 22,600 people in Douma needed urgent medical care -- that is roughly half the civilian population.
In short, the daily lives of the many trapped civilians are marked by hardship, uncertainty, violence… and remarkable displays of courage.
Al-Fawz uses a traditional Syrian decorative style from Damascus to transform artillery shells into beautiful ornaments.
“I used to paint on glass, now I paint on death”Artist Akram Abu Al-Fawz (also known as Mohamad Duma) lives in Douma with his family. He spoke about how his life and art have changed since the beginning of the conflict.
In my city, there are almost daily air raids as well as a crippling blockade, which has made the price of food skyrocket.
For almost two years, we have been cut off from medicine and most communication. We have also been living without electricity and running water. Like many other people, I am forced to work by candlelight because there is no fuel and no power.
The situation has taken its toll on all of us. I have three kids and their childhood has simply been crushed by this war — there is no place left for joy and playing in their hearts.
Yet even though life is hard, I feel a strong desire — a need — to continue to paint and draw. The difference is, before the war, I painted on glass. Now, I paint on death. I say this because I now paint on objects that could be considered the remains of war.
Most of the shells and missiles that I use are from the government’s air raids and heavy guns. I also use defective pieces from the ammunition factories that belong to the Free Syrian Army (the rebels). They are just thrown away, so I collect them and use them for my art. I decorate them using a style called the Old Eastern Damascene painting style. It’s disappearing but I am trying to revive it.
The paint I use is quite old; I used to use it before the revolution to draw on the glass. Now, my reserves of paint are almost empty and I can’t buy more because of the blockade and the high prices.
Al-Fawz fears that he will soon run out of paint and, with the government blockade on Douma, he is not sure how he will obtain the materials to continue his art.
Al-Fawz's finished ornament.
“In Syria, there are artists, not just warriors”
I am very proud of my work and how news about it has spread. I never thought people would be so enthusiastic about my work!
I am also very proud to have made my city’s name (Douma) “fly and wave high” across social networks and in the pages of many Arabic and international newspapers.
With its unique old alleys and homes decorated with traditional drawings and paintings, Syria’s beauty used to be famous. But now all we we see are images of the war. I wanted to show that, in my city and in Syria in general, there are artists as well as warriors. Each fights in his own way against the regime.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Brenna Daldorph (@brennad87).