How the Syrian conflict is influencing art – Vignette

How the Syrian conflict is influencing art

As Syria enters its 7th year of civil war, those whose lives have been ripped apart have been forced to come to terms with the fact that the country they once knew may be gone forever — or at least changed to a point of unrecognizability. Syrians are now faced with the task of forging a new identity while simultaneously holding on to their rapidly disappearing roots. This impasse is being confronted across the migrant community, but perhaps most notably by Syrian artists, who are redefining, on their own terms, what it now means to be Syrian.


Photo by Amer Mohamed, January 2017

Before the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, there were signs of a newly emerging, yet quickly growing, artistic drive within the country. Syrian photographer Amer Mohamad took note of this phenomenon in an interview with Vice’s I-D late last year when he said: “The war was never what we wanted. In the last six to eight years before the war, Syria was going through big changes with many creative opportunities.”

Mohamad, who grew up in Damascus but now lives in Moscow studying photography and architecture, goes on to discuss growing up in pre-war-torn Syria: going to the opera, the ballet, the wide proliferation of painters and sculptures. “Creativity was taught from generation to generation like a craft,” he recalled. Mohamed moved to Russia when his university in Syria was shut down because of intensifying conflict. But despite the distance, Syria continues to have a heavy influence on his work. He is a strong believer in the ability of art and creation to counter the effects of war and destruction. Through his work, he hopes to communicate the continued importance of Syrian culture to a global audience.


Tammam Azzam, Freedom Graffiti, 2013

Mohamed is following in the footsteps of countless Syrian artists who are using their work to address destruction in their homeland. For many of these artists, it was not an active choice to tackle such political themes in their projects, but something that happened naturally as they witnessed the oppression of creativity when the war intensified. “I’m an artist that’s doing artwork with a political background because of the situation, because I’m Syrian so I have to be involved in what’s happening in my country,” noted Tammam Azzam, a Syrian-born graphic designer now living in exile in Dubai. But like many other Syrian artists, Azzam emphasizes that this does not make him a political activist. He is first and foremost an artist, but with his home maintaining such a large influence over his work, speaking out for his community through his projects was all but compulsory, as many Syrian artists living abroad have found.

Trailer from ‘Dolls –  Woman from Damascus’ by Diana El Jeiroudi امرأة من دمشق – فيلم لديانا الجيرودي

Like many revolutions before it, the Syrian war will likely be looked back on as time that birthed an artistic movement as much as it destroyed one. With creativity being one of the most prominent forms of resistance, especially in a time where any further form of dissent is met with violence, it is often in war that artists come out of the woodwork. This is already evident if you look to filmmaker Diana El Jeiroudi, who founded an independent film production company in Syria, ProAction Film. The company has since been forced out of Syria after Jeiroudi’s producer Orwa Nyrabia caught the attention of the Assad regime. But this did not deter Jeiroudi nor her lofty ambitions of sharing the Syrian experience of her youth with the international world. Appropriately rebranding her company as No Nation Films, Jeiroudi is currently in production on two documentaries about Syria. Given her history with the Syrian government, they are likely to be two hard-hitting films.

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  • Missy Prudden April 7, 2017 in 21:28

    It is very interesting to consider artists and their intersection with war. I hadn’t really thought currently about the impact of the war on them. I mostly have thought about the immediate impacts. This takes me to a whole other level. Thanks for giving me this deeper appreciation of the war in Syria. Your blog is so insightful.

    • Tara Todras-Whitehill May 2, 2017 in 13:21

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. It’s great when we can see these large issues from other perspectives.


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