Explosive violence in Syria

An artist’s response to the crisis in Syria – stop bombing cities

Mark Hadjipateras, an artist living in Greece, has been working on a series of sculptures to address the terrible violence going on in Syria since 2011. His work aims to raise awareness and encourages greater perspective and understanding of the Syrian conflict.

Whilst his previous work has examined how people and nations can co-exist, exploring ideas of differences, diversity and otherness, this is the first of his work that responds directly to the political and humanitarian situation unfolding both in the beleaguered country and in Greece itself.

In Sham (left), for instance, Hadjipateras depicts a mother and child imprisoned in a tight-fitting cage. In the picture, the mother looks towards the Acropolis – the ancient symbol of democracy.

On Sham Hadjipateras’ says: “Sham is the ancient name for the region of the Levante which is present day Syria. In this sculpture, inspired by this location, a Syrian mother is holding her dead child and faces the Parthenon in a form of supplication to the so-called cradle of Western civilization. The West has stood idle for the last six years as the worst humanitarian tragedy since World War II continues to unfold, leaving half a million dead, 150,000 among them civilians, and close to eleven million displaced – half of the nation’s population. It’s a Sham!”

This sculpture encourages the audience to question the role of the West in such conflicts and our attitudes towards the refugees that are borne from them.

In Syria, since the civil war broke-out in 2011, 10.9 million people have been displaced – with 5.2 million fleeing across the border as refugees, and another 6.3 million remaining displaced inside the country. In total, more than half of Syria’s pre-war population have been forced to flee their homes since 2011, surpassing even the numbers of refuggees seen fleeing from the carnage of post-WWII Europe.

Such numbers reflect a deeper tragedy. Between 2011-2016, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded 51,836 deaths and injuries in Syria caused by explosive violence alone; with 86% of these being civilians. Beyond the immediate deaths and injuries, the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is severe, with damage to vital civilian infrastructure, psychological harm, and displacement.

Save the Children’s recent study, Invisible Wounds, published in March 2017, found that almost all children and 84% of adults reported that bombing and shelling was the number one cause of psychological stress for children. 71% of interviewees said children were increasingly suffering from symptoms of toxic stress and PTSD. Many Syrian children are now growing up only knowing war or displacement. 45% of school-aged children in Syria are no longer in school.

These facts are not lost on Mark Hadjipateras.

In Purple Reign (right) Hadjipateras’s sculpture does not shy away from the devastation of airstrikes. They surround a mother and child, imprisoning her in a torrent of bombs, bodies and debris. On the work, Hadjipateras explains, “Purple Reign refers to both the rain of bombs that have fallen upon the Syrian people since 2011, killing hundreds of thousands and destroying whole cities, as well as the reign of Bashar-Al Assad. The purple too denotes both the colour of mourning, which death, destruction, and suffering bring about, as well as the regal power and wealth that is often associated with the colour. The warriors appear merciless, expressionless, unfeeling and diachronic. Here, ancient mythological references turn into futuristic robotic depictions, deceptively attractive as destructive weapons.”

The work is Hadjipateras’ own response to the tragedy unfolding in Syria and the refugees he has seen arriving by the thousands to the shores of Lesvos, Chios and other islands: “As I saw the crimes perpetrated in Syria by the regime and its allies and the toll on civilians, the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees – often women and children – my grief turned to anger, which swelled inside me. I also saw the world’s inaction and how people grossly misunderstand the refugees, their plight and their predicament, how they are fleeing from death, suffering, starvation, and torture. I felt that it was no longer enough for me, as an artist, to go on dreaming and wishing for a better world. I wanted to attempt to address what was happening through my art, to show the root causes and hopefully help increase awareness. I felt irrelevant as a person and artist if I continued doing my work as usual.”

And the situation in Syria only appears to be getting worse. In the first half of 2017, AOAV recorded an 82% increase in civilian deaths from explosive weapons – predominantly from airstrikes. The data reflects the importance and urgency of the message behind Hadjipateras’ sculptures.

AOAV calls on states to recognise the civilian impact of explosive weapons with wide-area impacts, and stop using such weapons in populated areas. The charity has consistently found that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, over 90% of the casualties are likely to be civilians.

On the artist: Mark Hadjipateras has had more than 30 solo exhibitions and 100 groups exhibitions across, the US, Greece, the UK, Germany and Japan. The artist has held retrospective exhibitions in 2007 at the Museum of Modern Greek Art (Rhodes) and in the Municipal Gallery of Athens in 2008 and at the Hellenic Foundation of Culture in Berlin in 2011. For more on his work, click here.