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A talented Syrian painter draws on death and puts life to hurtful things. His three children now think bullets existed so people can paint on them and make art. Here is Akram Abo Al Foz, aged 36 and a father of three tells his story:
I’ve been living with my family in a besieged area – in the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta in Damascus Countryside – for more than two years now.
Before the Syrian revolution I worked in many domains, from mobile phone retail to interior design and finishing work for apartments. That’s related to a hobby that I enjoy – painting. After that, I moved to oriental painting on glass, and as time went by, the Arab Spring had just started in our country. At the beginning we held olive branches in our hands to demonstrate the peacefulness of the revolution, until revolutionaries were coerced into carrying weapons under the weight of violence.
Three years after the beginning of the revolution, and after leaving my hobbies, my painting brush and my colours, I felt that it is time to go back.
In 2014, I got a hold of the first shell for my house. I was planning on choosing a corner to display some bullet casings and fragments of the shell as evidence to the revolution era for next generations to see.
My idea was to decorate the death-reflecting shell case in a way makes it show life and liveliness. My goal was to erase the traces of sorrow from it and transform it into a source of hope.
I started collecting as many shell cases as possible such as shells fell on the civilians without exploding in Douma. I also collected bullet casings, which fill the streets where we live.
The idea grew clearer more and more over time. I kept collecting missile casings from planes bombed my city and shells from heavy artillery fell over our heads from the mountain of Jasmine – Qasyoun – so that they get recycled. I painted these armaments, which took the lives of innocent women, children and elderly, with Jasmine flowers.
Before starting to paint, the collected missiles and shells enter a cleaning process by specialized people, but some of the collected items like bullet casings get cleaned in the house because they don’t contain chemicals, poisonous substances or explosives. This kind of embossing requires a special type of squeezers that contain a substance similar to silicon, which dries from exposure to air and turns into a hard rubbery substance. Under the siege against the city, this substance is no longer available. But I kept some reserves in my house. When my house had been burnt I was thankful the fire didn’t reach them.
I started drawing, but I faced big obstacles, most notably the scarcity of colours and painting materials. When these materials were available, their prices were obscene because of the siege. We’ve also had a continuous outage of electricity for the past three years in eastern Ghouta. So I started drawing at sunrise and stopped at sunset and I managed to overcome all of these issues. After finishing the artworks, it was suggested to the photographer Bassam Al Hakeem to take photos of them.
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting this project to succeed so much, but with time it started to achieve its purpose and it reached many magazines, newspapers, Western and Arab social media pages and radio stations.
These artworks remained trapped in my house because there is no way to transport them out of the siege in eastern Ghouta despite the increasing demand for them from international museums and exhibitions. The photos of these artworks are the only things that make their way out.
Through these photos I participated in an art event sponsored by the Syrian-American Council, Karam Association and the Democratic Council in the American capital Washington, DC on the 4th anniversary of the Syrian revolution. The event included an Art and Revolution section, and my work was displayed alongside other artists’ work of the Syrian revolution including the works of Tamam Azzam and Kinda Habrawi. High-level American and Syrian figures went to this event.
I also participated with my artwork photos in a charity festival that was held in the Qatari capital. The festival was called Our Hearts are Their Tents, and its purpose was to support our refugees there who live in tents.
I try my hardest with my art to gain the biggest audience possible through exhibitions and art events, hoping, perhaps they might be able to convey clear and precise message that says “We Are Not Terrorists”.
Painting on these death and murder tools also helps to take away the fear in the eyes of my children, who never leave me during the painting process. They try to imitate me all the time by drawing on paper until they started to imagine that these shells existed to be drawn and painted on, for artwork only…. without knowing that these shells were embossed by the blood of innocents before I was able to bring them back life one more time through my paintings.