Red sweatshirt on red T-shirt, dark hair waving in the wind, sun-folded eyes and well-trimmed beard around a rounded face. In his right hand blackened with paint, two paintbrushes are drawn up as a sign of victory. Aziz Al Asmar is as pleasant in photos on his social networks as in his messages. Immediately after inquiring into the well-being of his interlocutor, the artist engages children, those in his neighborhood, who run towards him when he paints. “I just want to draw a smile on their faces and teach them to love and do good. After all these years of war, all these sacrifices, I pray that our children will finally experience happiness ”he explains in crude but hopeful English.
Resuscitate destroyed neighborhoods
Originally from Binnish, a town in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, Aziz Al Asmar began painting frescoes in the neighborhoods of his hometown five years ago, destroyed by joint bombing of the regimes of Bashar Al Assad and Vladimir Putin. In 2011, he was working in Lebanon in the publishing industry when the revolution against the regime broke out in Syria.
Through social networks, he first fervently follows the uprising of the Syrian population and begins to dream of“A new Syria, animated by democracy, freedom and justice ” He then created his first drawings: “I started to sketch, first on paper, the demonstrators with their flowers, their slogans and their banners”, he says. Without artistic training but with two painter brothers and a father who perfectly masters Arabic calligraphy, he easily embraces the family heritage.
Unlike many of his fellow citizens fleeing the repression, Aziz Al Asmar, too worried for his relatives, decides to return in 2015 to his homeland. In Lebanon already, he did not hide his opposition to the regime of Bashar Al Assad, nor his support for the peaceful protest movement of the population. This affiliation forced him to return illegally to Syria, crossing the border between Turkey and his region of origin on foot.
Arriving at Binnish, he is devastated. “What shocked me the most when I returned to my province of Idlib were these completely destroyed districts … In my city, at least a thousand people died in the bombing fire. That’s why I appropriated the bombed walls with my brushes. They forcefully transmit the injustice of crimes committed against civilians “.
Fighting against the regime and the epidemic
Recently, amid the drawings of freedom and opposition to Bashar Al Assad, the fight against the coronavirus epidemic has taken center stage. For fear that the population will be badly informed as to its dangerousness, Aziz Al Asmar makes bloom on the walls of the obese green viruses, often followed closely by a witch. Beside them, inscriptions in Arabic encourage people to adopt the recommended hygiene measures.
The street artist fears a “ humanitarian disaster “ if the epidemic spread in his country. “I am very afraid, because many underestimate this virus. After all the suffering they endured in nine years of war, it seems insignificant to them… In addition, our country cannot cope, our laboratories and our hospitals are not prepared for that and the camps of displaced persons are crowded “.
According to figures announced on April 22 by the Syrian Ministry of Health, 42 people have tested positive for coronavirus, three have died and six have recovered. Unbelievable figures for many observers.
Aziz Al Asmar fears that the regime is manipulating the virus in its favor, “By killing political prisoners and then claiming that they died from Covid-19”, he explains. This father of three, the last of whom is just one year old, is calling for international justice and an end to the war in his country.
“My eldest is a fan of sports and singing and my youngest adores math and chess. He would like to become a doctor, he says. I do everything I can to keep memories of the bombings, of leaks to the basements away from my children while the bombs are blasting over our heads. I would like that for only weapons, they only take brushes “.
His inspiration: Naji Al-Ali, creator of Handala, the Palestinian newsboy
Aziz Al-Asmar insists on what really gives him strength and inspiration: “Homes destroyed, bodies under rubble, the pain of having to accept the departure of [ses] relatives ” But if he must quote only one person, he immediately thinks of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, assassinated in London in 1987, which had caused a diplomatic crisis between Great Britain and Israel. Aziz Al-Asmar finds himself in the themes that the Palestinian addressed and he identifies the Syrian children with his emblematic character, Handala, a sort of Palestinian Newsboy. He remained frozen at the age of 10, the age at which Naji Al-Ali had himself had to take refuge, with his family, in a camp in Lebanon.