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

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.”


Iraq Pavilion at Venice Biennale shuts in solidarity with protesters

The Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has shut down in solidarity with protesters. Supplied
Updated 13 November 2019

Iraq Pavilion at Venice Biennale shuts in solidarity with protesters

  • In a show of solidarity with anti-government protestors, the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has shut down
  • Initially set to run until Nov. 24, the exhibition entitled “Fatherland” was closed on Nov. 5.

DUBAI: Iraq is currently in the midst of ongoing anti-government protests that have claimed the lives of more than 260 Iraqis since they erupted earlier this month. In a show of solidarity, the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has shut down.

Initially set to run until Nov. 24, the exhibition entitled “Fatherland” was closed on Nov. 5.

“Fatherland” is a collection of expressionist paintings by Iraqi-Kurdish artist Serwan Baran that were commissioned by Baghdad-based non-profit organization the Ruya Foundation, which in an official statement shared that the move was to show support to “the popular youth uprisings that have erupted in Iraq against state corruption and deteriorating economic and living conditions.”

“We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protesting, and the bloodshed that has led to the death of over 265 protesters so far,” read the statement shared on the organization’s Twitter account. “Peaceful protesting is a basic right, enshrined in Article 38.c of the Iraqi Constitution.”

“Since our founding in late 2012, we have worked hard, frequently in inhospitable circumstances, to create a platform for artists across Iraq to freely express their creativity, in a firm belief that culture is an integral component of any society, and a powerful force for change towards an open and free country. This is particularly important for Iraq, given its difficult recent history and authoritarian past,” it continued.

The Baghdad-based foundation, which was co-founded by Tamara Chalabi, daughter of former Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, has overseen the Iraq Pavilion in Venice since 2013.