Not far from his destroyed home in Syria’s Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees, 21-year-old Abdallah al-Harith dabs bright red paint onto a canvas standing amid the grey ruins.
Last week, he was among 12 young artists to set up their easels in the once-crowded camp turned Damascus suburb, now largely abandoned after seven years of civil war. Equipped with paintbrushes and pencils, they set out to translate suffering into art in a neighborhood ravaged by years of bombardment and siege.
We’re bringing back life to a dark place, said Harith, who fled Yarmouk several years ago, but returned after the regime ousted Islamic State group jihadists in May. I had such a lump in my throat when I first came back to the camp. At first, I couldn’t draw anything, said the fine arts student. But then I realized that any glimpse of life amid all this death was a victory, he said, gesturing towards the battered buildings around him.
He and his peers stood sweeping paint across their canvases while the gentle melody of an oud � a Middle Eastern lute � was broadcast across the smashed concrete.
Harith painted an image of a small boy emerging from the ground, holding a bright red apple. Harith said:
Before the war, Yarmouk was home to around 160,000 people, the United Nations says. Set up in 1957 to house Palestinian refugees, over the decades it became a crowded district that was eventually swallowed up by Damascus, but today it lies almost abandoned.
Around 140,000 residents fled clashes between the regime and rebels in 2012, leaving the rest to face severe food shortages under government encirclement.
In 2014, a harrowing photograph of gaunt-looking residents massing between ravaged buildings to receive handouts caused global outrage. Earlier this year, fighting between loyalists and jihadists displaced most of the remaining residents, according to the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
On Saturday, the work of the young artists was displayed at the entrance of the Yarmouk camp, with a small crowd making the trip to see it.
Painter Hinaya Kebabi depicted a young boy with a missing eye, holding up a drawing of another eye to conceal his wound, the 22-year-old explained. She said:
One painting depicted streams of red running down a dark building. In another, an emaciated man was curled up naked in the fetal position. After the images were shared online, several internet users slammed the project as provocative.
The camp is neither romantic nor a place for drawing, 28-year-old Abeer Abassiyeh said, as most former residents remain unable to return to their homes.
But Mohammed Jalbout, one of the organizers who hails from the Palestinian camp, defended the project.
Source: Palestine Chronicle