‘Painting on death’: Syrian artists make art with spent ammunition

  • Sonia al Ali
  • 20 Jan 2020

As northern Syria continues to be the theatre of a violent war waged by the Assad regime, many surviving artists on the ground are turning empty rocket and bullet shells into impressive artwork.

( AA )

The nine-year campaign of bombing in Syria led by Bashar al Assad and his main backer, Russia, has inspired a wave of war artists to produce artwork with one common feature— remnants of war. They are using spent rocket casings, missile debris, empty bullet cartridges and other exhausted weapons that targeted their towns, cities and villages, and turning them into a diverse range of artwork.   

Akram Sweidan, who was born and raised in Douma in the countryside of Damascus, describes his work as the "painting on death". During pre-war years, he painted on glass. Since the war broke out and continued, Sweidan told TRT World, he goes out on the streets of Douma to collect the spent ammunition. 

"The eastern Ghouta suffered from a lot of killings and destruction. Thousands of shells, missiles and barrel bombs were fired by the Assad regime and its ally Russia.  So I collect the remains, paint and decorate them with colours, turn these killer tools into life-like graphics," Sweidan said.  

Sweidan's artwork created from empty bomb shells.()
Akram Sweidan turns empty cartridges into spectacular pieces of artwork.()

Sweidan's work was well received the world over. He has participated in several art exhibitions in Europe, the US and the Gulf region. 

Another Syrian artist, Amani Zankeh, from Idlib province, doesn't use spent ammunition for her artistic expression but her drawings depict the human cost of the Syrian war. Her work also touches upon the oppression of women and violence against them in Syria. Despite surviving one of the most brutal wars of the 21st cCentury, she says her art sends the “message of life, despite the darkness of death" overshadowing everything.

Amani Zankeh says her work depicts violence against Syrian women.(TRTWorld)

While the Assad regime and Russia have showed no mercy to civilian areas and hit them repeatedly, violating human rights and almost all ceasefire deals, it has failed to break the will of rebellious population and the surviving artists on the ground. 

Aziz al Asamar has replaced his canvas with bombed out walls and buildings. Before the Arab Spring-inspired Syrian revolution in 2011, 35-year-old Samar, who hails from Idlib province, drew caricatures of Assad and other senior members of his regime.

He began drawing on the walls in the following years of war and destruction and said he wanted to send a clear message to the world that “under this rubble there were families, people with dreams and memories”.

Syrian graffiti artist Aziz al Asmar turns damaged houses and buildings into artspaces.(AA)
Aziz al Samar learned the art of painting from his father, who was a renowned calligrapher in Idlib.(AA)
Before the Syrian revolution in 2011, Aziz al Samar worked in a publishing house in Beirut, Lebanon. He moved back to his hometown Idlib to make art in defiance of the Assad regime.(AA)
Through his paintings, Aziz al Samar wants to tell the world that no one came to help Syrians while the Assad regime leveled cities and towns.(AA)

In February last year, when a baby girl was killed and her mother fatally wounded by Assad's bombing on Maarrat al Nouman, a town in Idlib, Asmar painted the portrait of the dead toddler with the caption: The war against terrorism in Syria.

"These are the drawings I prefer. It hurts, crushes my heart, but I must keep on painting the martyrs,” Asmar told L'Orient-Le Jour, a French-language newspaper in Lebanon. 

Another artist, Mustafa Deeb, finds clay-based art therapeutic. “When I make a piece with clay, touching mud with my hands, I feel like all the negative energy in my body is gone. I feel my trauma is treated,” Deeb told TRT World.  

Mustafa Deeb shows his recent artwork he carved out of clay.(TRTWorld)
Mustafa Deeb working on a new piece at his home in Idlib, Syria.(TRTWorld)

Deeb has been training Syrian children to make artwork with clay in the hope of helping them deal with their own war-related trauma.