Despite the atrocities of war in Syria, Abu Malek, aged 21, continues to paint on walls in destroyed neighbourhoods to express the suffering and conditions Syrians live. Here is Abu Malek tells his story:
Before the revolution began, I lived in Damascus. My studies were cut off after I received my high school diploma because of the security situation.
I had never visited Daraya, a suburb outside Damascus, much in the past, and I did not know much about the people there. But I came here to join my brother during the revolution, and we got stuck here when the siege began two years ago.
My brother was injured and went out of the country to seek treatment, but I refused to go with him. I preferred to stay with the young people during this difficult period the city was going through.
At first it was very difficult to live in a besieged city. I didn’t find any opportunity to read and learn. But later I met a group of young guys here—some who’d completed their studies and others who didn’t—and we were able to create our own world.
We read together and share our knowledge and experience. One day we came up with an idea of collecting all the books scattered throughout the city under the rubble of demolished homes.
It’s been a daunting and dangerous task, but we’ve been able to collect about 11,000 books on a variety of topics. We spent long days cataloguing the books and documenting the houses, in which they were found. So if the owners came back after the war the books could be returned.
Building this library was a milestone in my life and in the lives of many of the young people here. Now it’s the place where we sit, read and discuss a lot of subjects. I devoted several hours everyday working as a librarian to help everyone wants to find a book. That’s cemented my relationship with the people in the area.
I’ve loved painting since childhood. I always spend my time painting in books and on walls, I thought a lot about the mark I could leave through my drawings. We live under a physical and psychological siege. So people are tired and have heavy hearts. That prompted me to think of using my talent to add some beauty and joy to the lives of those trapped in Daraya.
One of the local young men suggested that I paint on the walls of the destroyed houses, which have become landmarks in the city after being bombed over and over. It was his idea to turn these ruined walls into canvases to give people some joy and show them that life will go on despite the bombing and death.
It was a brilliant idea, and I began working on it with my friends right away by brainstorming ideas and topics for the murals. We tried to make them varied and use them to express our suffering in conditions in which we live. We want to send messages to the outside, and also spread hope at home, since the project began about a year ago, I’ve done more than20 murals, some of the ideas we thought of are critical of the problems that we face in the revolution.
I am having some difficulties in the implementation of the murals project, most notably that few materials are available. Therefore, I am not free to choose which colours I want. Though I don’t need much, even simple materials are hard to find.
We tried to keep the graphics simple so people of all ages and backgrounds can understand them. In the beginning I was worried about the reaction of the people that they’d denounce the idea or say: “Did we have our homes destroyed in order for you to come and paint on our walls?”
I tried at first to paint the interior walls, which not everyone can notice. But after that, the murals spread on social media, and people began looking for them. They responded very positively to my work, and even helped proposing ideas and places to paint. This is what encouraged to continue the project.
I am not a professional, and I never studied art in school, but I’ve loved it since childhood. Though I had no experience painting on such a large scale, but besieged Daraya had to be an open canvas. People opened the roads for me and helped me continue expressing my thoughts through painting. Now I’m trying to develop myself in other fields outside drawing, like in design and editing programs.
I’m taking a course to improve my English. Beside that I go to many local events, like music festivals and weddings, in which I participate and sing with my friends. I will not stop painting as long as there are brushes and paint no matter how simple the materials are and as long as I’m still alive.
Abu Malek, 21 Years old – Syria, Daraya – All the credits are to Humans of Syria.