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'I Fled That Artless Country Split by a Horrific Civil War'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/10/2015 Ibrahim Al Awad
ART IN SYRIA © JOEL SAGET via Getty Images ART IN SYRIA

As an artist who was educated in the West, and who has lived in Syria for the majority of my life, I was able to figure out from the first day I moved from Germany to Syria that my mission as an artist there would be Mission Impossible.
During the nineties -- unlike Germany and the rest of Europe -- Syria was colorless. Everything was in grey, which reflected the political and cultural statue of a closed society like Syria. I opened a school that taught art for free to enable a generation to understand the world in a better way.
My effort was limited due to many restrictions that were imposed by the political status of the region. I then opened a workshop in the south of Syria, where I worked on producing artistic sculptures of the old Syrian goddess that could be used later to adorn the Syrian cities. However, the productivity of the work was slow, due to restrictions that were imposed by the state that applied oversight on any civic activities.
I later found a refuge in tourism. As a person who speaks German, I worked as a guide for German tourists, and I had the opportunity to see the tremendous amount of artistic work crafted by my ancestors in Palmyra, Homs, Aleppo, Horan and hundreds of other sites all over Syria. Working in tourism allowed me to explore the relation between art and civilization, and led me to wonder if art is a result of an open society, or if open society is a result of art.
I worked to raise more awareness about this treasure. I said to myself that if working with modern art has a lot of restrictions, at least we could rely on the art that was produced by our ancestors.
But after years of work, my dream ended up as a nightmare. My school was closed; the sculptures that I produced for years in my workshop were destroyed by radical Islamic groups that were active in southern part of Syria. And the worst, most nightmarish scene was seeing the Roman era artwork of my ancestors in Palmyra being destroyed by the savages of ISIS, a tragedy that was seen by millions of people.
I fled that artless country split by a horrific civil war. I live in Germany now, and I am working with my colleagues to give art a big role in rebuilding Syria. Infrastructure is not just buildings and services, but also art. We had, in the past, grey infrastructure, and now is the time to give a priority to art. Encouraging individuals to contribute to the building of Syria by their art is a step that can empower the individual, and can spread diversity in the country.

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