Meet Faysal: Syrian Designer Living in Malta

Faysal* is an interior design graduate who studied in his hometown in Syria. He is a highly motivated man in his thirties who now aspires to start a business in Malta and further his education with a Master’s degree in interior design.

Faysal in Republic Street, Valletta
© UNHCR/Peter Mercieca

When war broke out in Syria, Faysal and his family were forced to flee the country. He was unable to take his paintings and sketches with him. But Faysal took photos of his art before fleeing and stored them on an external hard drive, keeping them safe throughout his arduous journey to Malta. In a time of upheaval and instability, Faysal considers his artworks as a reflection of his identity.

“I need to protect my identity, not for myself but for my family. Fleeing Syria gave me the archetypical role of the protector of the family”, Faysal said on one of the many challenges he is facing as a Syrian refugee.

His art works mean much more than an expression of himself. They are also recollections the day he gathered his belongings and left Syria. He had carefully placed his artworks under his bed at home.. “In my mind my art works are still in perfect condition where I left them, and I hope to be able to return one day,”

Leaving war torn Syria has led Faysal to discover more about himself and the world around him. In his country he saw himself as being “number one” but now he sees himself as “number one hundred”. When conflict started he found himself in unfamiliar territory, forcing him to enter into situations where he simply had to fight for survival.

“I never thought I would be a refugee. Refugees are what you see on television originating from other continents. Refugees are what we saw when Iraqis and Palestinians knocked at Syria’s door. We opened our arms and homes to our neighbours at that time, and now here I am in another country – I am a refugee. I am not proud to be called a refugee but I will not let it bring me down. What matters is that my family and I are safe and second to that, who I am and who I aspire to be.”

 

UNHCR/Peter Mercieca

 

Faysal stresses the importance of staying focused on the present despite the hardship. Having arrived in Malta in December 2013, Faysal has since developed a wide network of friends, mostly of Maltese and French nationalities. He makes an effort to keep well informed about current cultural events, like Malta Design Week and Notte Bianca in Valletta. He stresses the importance of refugees rebuilding their lives and believes that it is imperative to build social networks in order to engage with local people and understand the culture further. Faysal has built an active routine in Malta, surrounding himself with the things he likes to do. He jokingly said, “no artist paints all the time”, he also makes time for football and cooking, two of his favourite pastimes.

“I have renewed respect for refugees around the world because I know what they go through, I experienced it myself”. Faysal encourages people in a similar situation to really explore the country they are living in, to travel around and become familiar with the land. He stresses the importance of learning the language, which is key to open communication channels and integration. As an artist, Faysal believes that true art comes from being perceptive and learning to tune into your environment.

Since Faysal left Syria his creativity has taken second place, but not for long. As he puts it: “right now is my time for earning money to start my business and further my education”, yet he is confident that soon enough he will be able to dedicate more time to his artistic development. Having said that he will not miss out on an opportunity to read up on his favourite artist Vincent Van Gogh or go down to Sliema with his sketch pad and charcoal sticks to draw views of Valletta’s historic bastions.

*Name changed to protect privacy