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.”


Traveling back thousands of years by reviving KSA's Al-Ula

Archaeological treasures in the northwestern region of the Kingdom are older than Saudi Arabia itself, and barely known to the world. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Traveling back thousands of years by reviving KSA's Al-Ula

  • The RCU is joining forces with the Arab World Institute in Paris to produce a touring exhibition

JEDDAH: Bathing in the scorching sun of Saudi Arabia for the past 4,000 years and sitting among the sandy dunes of the northwestern region of the Kingdom, lie the country’s archaeological treasures. These treasures are even older than Saudi Arabia itself, and barely known to the world.
The area covers about 52 hectares of well-preserved land in which there are tombs handcrafted out of the rocks, relics from ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans, archaeological riches dating back 4,000 years and other priceless artifacts from the Ottoman Empire.
The somewhat forgotten land is going to be brought into the spotlight by the year 2020 as a historic collaboration takes place between Saudi Arabia and France.
France excels in the art of preserving history so it is the perfect alliance to meet the goals of making Al-Ula a tourist attraction.
Saudis are cooperating with France in preserving and promoting culture and archaeology.
The French consider this project so prestigious that Gerard Mestrallet, a special envoy of the president, has been appointed for Al-Ula. Both countries share a common approach to national heritage; that culture transcends all borders and should be accessible to all who seek to observe history.
The agreement was signed in the presence of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron as well as Al-Ula governor, the special envoy to Al-Ula and France’s foreign minister. Against the walls of Paris’s Musee De Arts Decoratifs — a wing of the Louvre Palace — sit the illuminated sandstones for the French to experience a sliver of Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage. The Royal Commission of Al-Ula (RCU) has signed an agreement with Campus France, described as the leading international academic and vocational public institution in France, to train young Saudi women and men to become aspiring archaeologists.
The RCU is joining forces with the Arab World Institute in Paris to produce a touring exhibition. Public transport, hotels and restaurants are also part of the plan.
More than 2,100 people applied for traineeships: 200 young Saudi men and women will be trained by the most prestigious institutes in the world; part of the 1.2 million new tourist jobs are expected to be created under Vision 2030.
Cutting-edge technologies and methods such as aerial LiDAR (light detection and ranging), scanning and photos taken from light aircraft, helicopter and drones will also be used.