In pictures: Syria's Banksy Turns Rubble Into Art


Street artist Abu Malik al-Shami is a politically aware street artist whose paintings have appeared suddenly during Syria's civil war, which has earned him comparisons with the worldwide known graffiti artist Banksy.

He drew international attention with the incongruous mural he drew on the wall of a destroyed building in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus which faced near-constant bombardments during the war.


In a summer morning of 2014, people of Darayya woke to the sight of a new piece of street art overlooking the town.  The suburban town, situated 6 miles (10 km) away from Damascus, had been under bombing attacks leading to a chronic lack of food, water, and power.

The mural painting showed a young girl standing on a pile of skulls writing a single word on a wall: Hope.

The Hope mural of August 2014 was the first of al-Shami's works to bring him acclaim outside Daraya.

The cartoonist Handala, who later became the symbol of Palestinian refugees, is painted on the board of a bombed-out school while writing: "We used to joke and say, God please destroy the school ... and he did."

Al-Shami's murals have appeared in about 30 different locations in Darayya since the summer of 2014.

The ironic caption reads "Happy Mother's Day" - which is celebrated on 21 March in the Arab world.

In early 2013, the artist traveled to Darayya to join the Free Syrian Army, taking his sketchbooks and pencils with him.

On his first day in Darayya, he says, he was taught to shoot a gun. On his second day, he was sent to the front line. It was only much later, in 2014, that he met an artist named Majd, nicknamed the "Eye of Darayya" who encouraged him to take up street art.

His first mural, on the ruins of a large house, depicted a girl pointing to a heart - teaching a soldier about love, before he goes out to fight.

In this mural drawn on a destructed wall of a big house, the girl is pointing to a heart to teach a soldier about love, before he goes out to fight.

Getting artistic supplies was initially a problem.

"When I arrived in Darayya, I was completely shocked," he says. "There was huge destruction everywhere, and at that time, the regime was shelling randomly and attacking people. The situation was miserable, we couldn't bear it. Everything was collapsing."

Another mural showing a gun and a camera directed to each other; in the very ruins of the town.

The only art shop of Darayya also was in ruins by 2014. However, with the permission of the shop owner, Majd, Shami and others dug through the rubble to find paint and brushes.

This picture depicts the changing nature of the Syrian conflict, from peaceful protests, to regime forces, to rebel gains and finally the rise of Islamic State.

There was also the risk of being shot by a sniper or being hit by a bomb, and Shami says it was particularly risky to work on rooftops.

"The best times were sunset, or sunrise when there was quiet throughout the city," he says. "Sometimes we had to do it at night, so whenever there was a full moon, I used that time to paint murals. Sometimes I also used the light of my mobile phone."

On the walls of schools and family homes, Abu Malek al-Shami's work highlights the surreal absence of life that once took place there.

"The process was very tiring," he says. "Every day, I used to fight on the front line, and only in my free time would I paint and draw."

The Arabic writing reads: "How are we celebrating Eid this year?"

As time went on, Shami and his friends began to run out of paint. At a certain point he had only red, black, pistachio green, gloss yellow, and brown to work with.

He was also out of action for part of 2015 with a battlefield injury.

Dream of the life that was once taking place there.

In January 2016, his friend Majd was killed.

Syrian government forces took the city in August and along with hundreds of others, Shami fled to rebel-held Idlib in northern Syria.

The sentence translates: "Our roses are for those who watered them with their blood."

Street art, particularly graffiti, is notoriously nondurable, and with government forces in charge of the town, the fate of Shami's works is perilous.

So before leaving the city, he took photos of all the murals and graffiti he had painted over the years. And he is continuing his outdoor art on the streets of Idlib.

The last work of Al-Shami in Darayya

The Xs represent Russian and Syrian warplanes, and the Os represent tires which children in Aleppo have been burning in order to create smoke screens.

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