The Syrian artist who paints on death

Akram Abo Alfoz, an artist living under siege in Ghouta, creates inspiration as he transforms the medium destroying his city into a vehicle of hope. His work speaks optimism in a language that transcends speech.

When Homer described war, he spared his audience the gore by torturing the grammar, by pulling apart the line, reshaping it to convey the horror. He moved his audience not with the superlative of violence but, instead, elicited the fevered cadence of battle.

Goya voyeuristically evoked the intimacy of violence between the executed and the executioner. While Picasso’s use of line and colour conveyed the pointed, raw energy of war.

Violence is no longer a curiosity. A century of conflict euthanised sensitivity and the ability to be moved by images of war and suffering. Our eyes, ravaged by violence, seeks a respite, a sanctuary that inspires, creates and envisions peace. As the war in Syria rages, and Eastern Ghouta was pulverised by aerial bombardment and starved by years of blockade, a Syrian artist dares to hope.

Akram Abo Alfoz, an artist living under siege in Ghouta, creates inspiration as he transforms the medium destroying his city into a vehicle of hope. His work speaks optimism in a language that transcends speech.

Painting on Death

Abo Alfoz left his artistic passion for almost three years due to the war, but, in 2014, his passion was rekindled by an unexpected source, a shell hit his home:

I obtained the first shell in 2014 when it fell on my house. My plan was to dedicate a corner of my house to display some bullet casings and fragments of the shell, as a reminder of this time of the revolution for future generations to see and remember.

He explains he felt compelled to return to art despite the war as he felt that ‘the revolution had lost its peaceful spirit’.

As the war raged on, Abo Alfoz’ inspiration derived from the peaceful protests that began the Syrian uprising before the escalation of violence. Alfoz’ commitment and desire for peace motivates him to create and distil hopefulness into his craft.

His work is a message and a metaphor, encapsulating death, inspired by the art of Syrian domestic life. Alfoz chooses to use the transcendent voice of art to evoke the sublime and to transform the medium destroying daily life in Syria into a metaphor of preserving the domestic heritage of a civilisation besieged.


What strikes the viewer when encountering Alfoz’ work is the juxtaposition of the medium with the elements used to transform each munition, be it a bomb, bullet or grenade. Each piece is exquisitely crafted into a kaleidoscopic explosion of vibrant hues. Reminiscent of Faberge eggs and the life and rebirth metaphor they represent, grafted onto his pieces are symbols of post-modern death, resisting, refusing to accept a dystopia, instead seeking to celebrate life in all its beauty.

Alfoz’ work is imbued with rich elements that pay tribute to the Ottoman decorative arts popular in Damascus. These elements were first employed by Syrian artisans in the early era of the Umayyad Empire to embellish mosques and palaces and, during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, this art form took root in the domestic arts in the ancient city of Damascus, remaining popular today.

The repeating geometric patterning and use of the architectural structure of muqarnas used decoratively on vaulted ceilings are transferred to the domes of bomblets by Alfoz. The bodies of projectiles hold the viewer transfixed by his use of multi-hued Turkish Rococo gilding. Bullet cases are bejewelled and encrusted with the design technique of stippling that is typical of Turkish and Syrian fine jewellery craft. Missiles are filled with densely patterned motifs found on the walls and wood work of domestic spaces in Damascus.

The work pulls the observer into an allegory of domestic life being eradicated, and the Syrian peoples’ desire to preserve it. Each piece captures not only the intimate picture of domestic life, but the hustle and bustle of domestic life in Damascus, established in the third millennium, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, now decimated and being emptied of life. The work beckons the viewer to experience the piercing splendour of the distillation of the eradication of thousands of years of history into the potent medium of a munition. It is an allegory of the vanishing of a people, of our common cultural heritage, but it is not decomposition or a grave marker; it is a cathartic recreation, a reclaiming and an affirmation of humanity and life.

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