As a refugee I couldn’t defend my homeland, but I can make sure Syria lives on in my art – Middle East Monitor
If a palette reflected Ghazwan Assaf’s art, it would be covered with analogous colours of earthy greens, browns and black, splashes of ethereal whites with flecks of gold then sudden strikes of bright blues and oranges.
Those colours are carefully washed over the miniature building sculptures created with clay and glass that represent the solace he finds in his current world and the hope he holds for his home country.
“Through creating sculptures, my artistic soul is reflected, and the doors of memory are opened, summoning scenes from the past that touch people’s hearts,” says Ghazwan. “My art extends beyond the conventional notion of beauty and magnificence in portraying things. It also mirrors their profound pain resulting from events that have ravaged their beauty, such as war or catastrophe.”
“I use the language of art to embody works that express the sorrow and tragedy that occurred in those afflicted regions. I strive to infuse a glimmer of emerging hope and strong determination to endure.”
Born and raised in Syria, in the city of Aleppo, Ghazwan was deeply influenced by the rich cultural heritage and architectural splendour of his homeland. After he was forced to flee his home in 2015, he arrived in Germany as a refugee, feeling adrift and helpless.
“The situation in my country was worsening day-by-day, and the dream of freedom and peace seemed increasingly impossible with the passing of time. Like every Syrian, I wished that the war would be just a crisis and resolved as quickly as possible. Having my country governed by a new politics was one of my wishes, but unfortunately, the situation only worsened day after day,” Ghazwan explains.
“This was, of course, the reason for the increasing number of casualties in the country and the migration of most Syrians, including myself. As a helpless refugee, I couldn’t defend my homeland.”
Ghazwan’s chosen medium, miniature art, might seem incongruous at first when depicting the colossal destruction caused by war, but it is precisely this juxtaposition that makes his mini creations all the more profound.
Although sombre, most of the works are inventive and unique, occasionally even displaying healing energy as he also meticulously recreates Syrian architecture in its pre-war glory.
These miniature creations include corner shops, homes and courtyards with the traditional Syrian fountains, known as ‘bah-rah‘, adorned with mosaics, in forms small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand.
“I hadn’t learned drawing before. I started when I arrived in Germany in 2015 to try and make the most of my time by engaging in something meaningful, and my experience of escaping the war in my country helped me develop my talent further for expressing feelings of escape and hope. This talent then evolved into the art of miniatures,” Ghazwan says.
Art, he explains, was an impulse to make sense of the horrors experienced during the war.
Through diverse materials like wood, stone, marble, mosaic, glass and metals, he weaves a tale of a land scarred by war yet still echoing the splendour of its cultural past.
Recreating traditional symbols within a Syrian household, featuring the standard geometric patterns and floral designs, is as significant to Ghazwan as showing the devastating consequences of war. It’s how the life of Syria and its people will live on, he explains.
Incorporating metalwork for the rusted doors and wrought iron railings in addition to shattered, coloured glass across the dust of greys and black ashes adds a striking layer of authenticity and detail to his art.
The careful arrangement of piled rubble, collapsed door frames and fragmented mosaic pieces contributes to the overall realism of his miniature sculptures, evoking a sense of empathy in viewers, urging them to contemplate the human cost of war and the enduring spirit of a nation scarred by conflict.
It is a snapshot of the destruction afflicted on Syria after more than 12 years of conflict, which mushroomed out of protests against President Bashar Al-Assad’s rule in 2011. Since then, at least 350,000 people have been killed, millions uprooted and public infrastructure is in ruins.
“In my art, it’s important for me to try to embody the realities and memories of the past that each of us refugees have witnessed and experienced during and after the war. And I’ve found that art is the most effective way I can be truly free; free to express myself, free to shape the pieces and be free to think and decide.”
His newly found talent also allows him to escape the burdens of homesickness as he delves into a realm where he can express his emotions and memories through his craft and use it to connect with the people around him.
His paintings hold not only his story but the collective narrative of his people, he explains. Now, with several exhibitions planned in Germany and other countries, he is eager to present his art to a diverse and global audience. He hopes that by engaging with a global audience, he can challenge preconceived notions and inspire conversations about the human impact of conflicts.
“My aim is to continue inspiring and encouraging people to contemplate and engage with humanitarian issues on a deeper level. I will work hard for my artistic contributions to be impactful on the communities where they are exhibited and for it to be a learning experience for all about Syria and all war-torn countries,” adds Ghazwan.