In Syria’s Yarmuk, artists paint amid the ruins

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Artist Hinaya Kibabi paints in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2018. (AFP)
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Artist Abdallah al-Harith, 21, paints in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2018. (AFP)
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Artists paint in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2018. (AFP)
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Artist Abdallah al-Harith, 21, paints in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2018. (AFP)
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An artist paints in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 24 August 2018
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In Syria’s Yarmuk, artists paint amid the ruins

  • Around 140,000 residents fled clashes between the regime and rebels in 2012, leaving the rest to face severe food shortages under government encirclement
  • Set up in 1957 to house Palestinian refugees, over the decades it became a crowded district that was eventually swallowed up by Damascus

YARMUK, Syria: Not far from his destroyed home in Syria’s Yarmuk camp for Palestinian refugees, 21-year-old Abdallah Al-Harith dabs bright red paint onto a canvas standing amid the grey ruins.
Last week, he was among 12 young artists to set up their easels in the once-crowded camp turned Damascus suburb, now largely abandoned after seven years of civil war.
Equipped with paint brushes and pencils, they set out to translate suffering into art in a neighborhood ravaged by years of bombardment and siege.
“We’re bringing back life to a dark place,” said Harith, who fled Yarmuk several years ago, but returned after the regime ousted Daesh group jihadists in May.
“I had such a lump in my throat when I first came back to the camp. At first I couldn’t draw anything,” said the fine arts student.
“But then I realized that any glimpse of life amid all this death was a victory,” he said, gesturing toward the battered buildings around him.
He and his peers stood sweeping paint across their canvases while the gentle melody of an oud — a Middle Eastern lute — was broadcast across the smashed concrete. Harith painted an image of a small boy emerging from the ground, holding a bright red apple.
“It’s supposed to represent new life,” Harith said.
“I actually saw something like this once: children with apples playing again on what had been fighting ground.”
Before the war, Yarmuk was home to around 160,000 people, the United Nations says.
Set up in 1957 to house Palestinian refugees, over the decades it became a crowded district that was eventually swallowed up by Damascus.
But today it lies almost abandoned. Around 140,000 residents fled clashes between the regime and rebels in 2012, leaving the rest to face severe food shortages under government encirclement. In 2014, a harrowing photograph of gaunt-looking residents massing between ravaged buildings to receive handouts caused global outrage.
Earlier this year, fighting between loyalists and jihadists displaced most of the remaining residents, according to the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
President Bashar Assad’s troops retook control in May, ousting IS fighters from their last urban stronghold on the outskirts of the capital.
In late May, UNRWA said an immediate return of residents was unlikely due to extensive damage to key infrastructure such as the water and power networks.
Visiting the camp last month, UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl said he had rarely seen such damage.
“The scale of the destruction in Yarmuk compares to very little else that I have seen in many years of humanitarian work in conflict zones,” he said.
On Saturday, the work of the young artists was displayed at the entrance of the Yarmuk camp, with a small crowd making the trip to see it.
Painter Hinaya Kebabi depicted a young boy with a missing eye, holding up a drawing of another eye to conceal his wound, the 22-year-old explained.
“One day, I hope people will come back here to color, not rubble,” she said.
One painting depicted streams of red running down a dark building.
In another, an emaciated man was curled up naked in the foetal position.
After the images were shared online, several Internet users slammed the project as provocative.
“The camp is neither romantic nor a place for drawing,” 28-year-old Abeer Abassiyeh said, as most former residents remain unable to return to their homes.
But Mohammed Jalbout, one of the organizers who hails from the Palestinian camp, defended the project.
“We all have homes here. I haven’t been back to mine or been able to inspect it,” he said.
But, he said, “at least through art, we’re trying to breathe a little life back into this place.”


Life lessons from inspirational women — Alexis

Music artist 'Alexis.' (Supplied)
Updated 19 February 2019
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Life lessons from inspirational women — Alexis

  • UAE-based singer-songwriter, Alexis just released her album “This Is Me”
  • She talks tolerance, proving yourself, and the power of words

DUBAI: The UAE-based singer-songwriter, who just released her album “This Is Me,” talks tolerance, proving yourself, and the power of words

I’m very demanding of myself, which is a contradiction, because I’m so understanding and accepting of the weaknesses of other people, but I’m not that kind to myself. But I don’t mind laughing at myself either.

 

I’ve been guilty, earlier in my career, of trying to force situations. Sometimes pushing is good, but allowing things to happen in their own time is also a valuable skill. It’s not necessarily about the destination; it’s the journey. And if you can allow yourself to enjoy the journey, you’ll get there eventually — perhaps in a better condition.

 

My father encouraged me to be an individual thinker. He’s a man who has roots in a very conservative, male-driven culture, but he was raised by a woman who wasn’t afraid to break the mold. He advised me that because of what I look like, and being a woman, I would always need to be more than just adequately prepared: “If you’re required to know two things for a job, when you walk in there you need to know four or six things.”

 

I know it’s probably just something parents tell their kids to help them get through difficult situations, but I think that “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you” thing is such nonsense. Words can hurt. They can cause incredible damage. It’s important for us to realize the impact of what we say, how we say it, and to whom. Words have power.

 

I handled my own business from the very beginning, so I found myself at 18 going into meetings with executives who were in their 40s and 50s. And of course I was a child to them. So having them look beyond the physical thing and realize that I was very serious about my work and knew what I was talking about was a challenge. It’s easy to see me as a fashion horse. It’s harder to see that I’m a worker. Get past the window dressing and I’ve got quality merchandise. But I survived life with older brothers. I think I can tackle anything at this point.

 

Men and women are equally capable, but in different ways. It’s a bit of a generalization, but we have to accept that different people have different methodologies.