This is part of a series of stories we are featuring from artists involved in Create Syria – our project with the British Council and the independent cultural organisation Ettijahat - Independent Culture that empowers Syrian artists in exile to build resilience between refugees and communities across Lebanon.
“These students remind me of myself back when I was a teenager in Manbij, Aleppo”, says Syrian artist Mohamed Aloosh.
As part of the Create Syria project, which supports Syrian artists in using innovative artistic ideas to foster dialogue between refugees and communities across Lebanon, Mohamed brings together Syrian and Lebanese youth through introductory painting sessions.
When he first started giving the sessions, Mohamed discovered that the children were not only learning the basics of drawing. The art of painting was also bringing them together and breaking down cultural and social barriers.
Sitting in his studio in Baalbek, in the foothills of Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, known as the ‘City of the sun’, Mohamed talks about Syria, the conflict and art.
Art helped him to cope with the atrocities of the Syrian crisis before coming to Lebanon at the end of 2011. Painting gave him a space to express himself.
“I would lay out all my pain, fear, fatigue, happiness, and excitement on the canvas and start throwing in all sorts of colours”, he says. This is why he wants these young people to express themselves and lay out all their emotions, too.
“It is only by overcoming personal barriers that one can learn how to break any other cultural or social challenges”.
Watch: Mohamed Aloosh talking about his painting workshops.
By looking around the painting studio, you can see Syrian and Lebanese participants laughing, talking to each other, and commenting on each other’s paintings and techniques.
However, to start with, it was not easy for Mohamed to bring the participants together.
“When they first came in, you could feel some kind of underlying tension,” he says. At first, the youngsters divided themselves into two groups: Syrian and Lebanese. Mohamed had to move the easel stands to mix them. This is when they started to mingle and get to know each other.
Mariam, a 17-year-old Syrian participant, is very happy with what she learned in the workshops and is even practising drawing and painting at home. She wants to discover new techniques and maybe take what she learned in the workshop a step further. The most useful lesson, though, was learning how to express herself. “I can pour out and let go of any discontent or confusion. I became free of any frustration,” she says proudly.
For Jihane, a 16-year-old Lebanese participant, these painting sessions were a dream come true. She had a passion for painting from a young age and was happy this opportunity presented itself in Baalbek: “I cherish every second of these learning sessions, and what makes me feel comfortable is the relations and connections I gained. Everyone is so nice and eager to learn!”
You can see the joy in Mohamed’s eyes when his students talk. The artist points out that the workshop didn’t just teach the participants how to paint, but also how to make friends and act respectfully towards their families and the environment.
He adds: “I told them, when the Create Syria project ends, this studio will always be open for you and for anyone who wants to improve their painting skills. I want them to always come and meet here”.
Mohamed has another ambition. He wishes to go back to his hometown, Manbij, and organise a sculpting forum.
He also hopes the participating Syrian boys and girls will go back to Syria one day and benefit their country with their newly acquired skills and knowledge.
They are the future, now.
Mohamed's work and story, along with other Create Syria artists, will be showcased at our exhibition in London from 22 September - 2 October 2016. Find out more: talkingpeacefestival.org/create-syria
Photo and video: © Johnny Abed/International Alert