The War in Syria, Through the Eyes of Syrian Artists

War art has proven to be the few, if the only, outlet that gives us a glimpse of what average people experience during wartime periods. An explosion of contemporary art, prior, and during wartime continued throughout the twentieth century. Artists living through the Syrian civil war are following suit, and we are seeing yet another wave of contemporary, Syrian art coming through as a reaction to the ongoing turmoil in the country.

As there continues to be a media blackout of sorts when it comes to covering parts of Syria on the ground, we could very well consider this to be another form of coverage. This art covers what we often can’t see even in the most thorough journalistic coverage of the conflict. They serve as portraits of human suffering and remind us of how tangible this war is for millions of Syrians. 

Among the most notable Syrian artists of the war that we’ve seen thus far are Tarek Tuma and Hamid Sulaiman. Just recently, a British art show premiered some of these artists’ work, much of which was smuggled out of Syria as part of a project called #withoutwords for artists who don’t have a safe platform to display their works. The exhibition in London from June 27 to September 1. 

The project was born out of a joint effort between Mosaic Syria, an organization that provides humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and the P21 Gallery, a nonprofit that promotes contemporary Middle Eastern art.

In Tuma’s portrait of a 13-year-old boy, Hamza Bakour became highly publicized over losing his lower jaw from a gunshot. This is particularly touching in that while we see the blood and gore that we’ve become desensitized to, the most gripping part of the this painting is how the face is split into the very vivid red that drips down the canvas, and the boy’s upper half of his face. His eyes, one more clear than the other, look directly at the viewer of the painting with eyebrows turned upwards. The painting has a faded effect, aside from the blood. The blood seems interestingly out of place, as if someone just threw a tomato at the bottom half. Such depictions serve as reminders that Syrians are indeed people, before they are statistics.

Another artist, Mohannad Orabi featured above, released several paintings and collages last year that portray Syrians outside the world of the conflict. Their eyes are the boldest feature of the work and serve as a necessary reminder of their innocence.

In another painting by Sulaiman, an artist featured in #withoutwords, another vivid portrayal of the fear experienced on a daily basis is manifested in people huddling together in what is said to be a corridor of a police station. The painting is somewhat reminiscent of earlier works during WWI such as Picasso’s "Guernica," in that it not only summarizes the chaos of war, but also shows raw desperation in the midst of an attack. However, this painting also very much puts forth an image of a steady hope for an end to the violence.

It’s incredibly important to pay attention to the artwork coming out from Syrians experiencing the war. It doesn’t only give us another, more human perspective to what’s happening in Syria, but it also shows that the people now stuck within this war were once living routine lives not unlike ours, and it also shows the incredible hold Syrians have on hope that the war will someday end.