Exiled Artist Uses Art to Save Memories of Syria

20 April, 2018

Syrian-born artist Mohamad Hafez saves memories of his home country through dioramas. His models show life in Syria, both before and during the current conflict.

Hafez uses little pieces of metal, wood and stone to represent people and their communities. He also uses recorded voices and images of everyday life in Syria. He captured them with his camera before the fighting started in 2011.

Hafez told VOA, "I recorded everything I could get my hands on. People's conversations in cafes, the calling for prayers in mosques, the bells of churches, the conversation of a taxi driver and voices of children playing in the courtyard of Umayyad Mosque."

Mohamad Hafez said the recordings provide examples of everyday life. And, Hafez said he believes art helps rebuild the spirit of Syria's past and present, and protect the beauty of his culture.

One year after the war began, he found the recordings and images he had made. The artist said that he felt, after their discovery, he had found a new purpose in life. He was meant to tell the story of his country and keep memories of it for the next generation of Syrians.

Hafez said that, as an artist, he is supposed to bring hope to his people to rebuild their homeland and live in peace.

"On this Earth, there is something worth living for," he added.

Hafez now lives in exile in the American state of Connecticut. Since 2009, he has worked as an architect in the city of New Haven. Recently, he received special recognition from Yale University. He was named a 2018 Yale University Silliman College Fellow.

Hafez came to the United States on a student visa in 2003 and studied at Iowa State University. Once in the U.S., it took him several years to go back to his home in Syria.

Displaced Syrian children look out from their tents at Kelbit refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 17, 2018.
Displaced Syrian children look out from their tents at Kelbit refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 17, 2018.


The war in Syria has caused millions of Syrians to flee their homes and seek safety within or outside the country.

Mohamad Hafez is an activist for refugees and their rights.

"You do not need to be a refugee to understand the memories and the feelings of them. We should understand that circumstances forced these people to leave their homes," he said.

"We should treat them as real humans who share the same feelings as we do," he added.

Hafez said he wants to represent the common quality that connects Syrian refugees with the rest of the world.

"I am trying to tell the stories of the refugees from all religions and backgrounds," Hafez said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are more than six million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries. More than half of them are reported to be in Turkey.

I'm­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Caty Weaver.

VOA News reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

dioraman. a three-dimensional life-size or small-size model

conversationn. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people: the act of talking in an informal way

mosque n. a building that is used for Muslim religious services

belln. a hollow usually cup-shaped metal object that makes a ringing sound when it is hit

churchn. a building that is used for Christian religious services

courtyardn. an open space that is surrounded completely or partly by a building or group of buildings

circumstancen. a condition or fact that affects a situation