Esin Erdoğan | 21 April 2021
Syrian artist Akram’s story is one of art, perseverance and dedication. He shares his story of arriving and building a life in Turkey after the Syrian conflict forced him to leave behind his home and his art.
Akram’s story is one of art, perseverance, and dedication. He is one of millions of people who were forced to leave their home in Syria. As an artist, he is trying to define what home means to him.
Akram comes from a family of poets and artists. He started to sculpt and paint when he was a child. He recalls winning school art competitions and even opening his own art gallery when he was just 10 years old. In Syria, he was already an established artist when the conflict began. Then his life changed. At first, he planned to remain home and not abandon his art which carried his life’s work. When he was forced to leave in 2016, he arrived in Turkey from Deir Ezzor and his family, a daughter and two sons joined him in 2017.
Sensing he may never return to Syria, Akram was obliged to leave his work behind. He buried some of his paintings hoping they may not be found. He found out later that his gallery was destroyed, and his artwork confiscated. Akram is thankful to be alive. He says he could always continue to create art.
The move from Syria to Turkey was not easy for him and his family. He had a good and stable life in Syria; however, he had to start from the very beginning. “I came to Turkey and began my life from scratch,” he says. “At first I thought of going to France possibly to be an artist there, but I had started my life in Turkey and saw that I could work freely, doing what I love, with my own hands”. Akram says he found inspiration in Turkey and sensed that he could have a place among the many Turkish artists. He saw that he had the skills and means to survive as an artist in Turkey and more importantly, he had his freedom.
Now, in Turkey, Akram works continuously, both to make a living and to continue producing art. His efforts are starting to pay off. He received an invitation to meet the Turkish Minister of Culture. He says with a deep sense of pride at his accomplishments that he exhibited his art in four exhibitions since he came to Turkey, all of which were successful. He remembers the positive reactions he received from his Turkish peers. “I felt supported, appreciated and that my work was admired,” he says. “These beautiful reactions from the Turkish people motivated me to work even harder and to continue my vocation as an artist.”
Akram also sculpts. His sculptures have found their way into some art galleries and public buildings in Turkey. Through his sculptures, he is able to incorporate into his art how the war in Syria has affected his life and that of so many. He says, “I don’t see sculpting as an occupation. It is my artistic expression.”
Akram thinks about what inspires his work. He says, “When I am amazed, I try to amaze other people. When something affects me and touches me, I try to reflect that into my art. I don’t just do it to call myself an artist or to produce art. I do it to depict what happened in my country and to my people, and to tell the story of their suffering. I try to feel the sadness of other people, people who live in camps or who can’t find food. I try to translate that into art.”
Realistically speaking, Akram is not optimistic about the future of his country and does not think the war will end soon. He brought a jar of soil with him from his homeland, and every time he misses home, he opens the jar and smells the soil in his hands hoping to be reminded of his home. “I am 53 years old now”, he says, “I do all kinds of artwork and do not turn down any offers for commissions, as long as I have the will and the energy to work”. He adds, “As refugees, we have no other option but to work hard in order to survive.”
Despite the grim reality of his forced displacement, Akram is filled with hope and enthusiasm for his future prospects, which he believes stem from a deep sense of freedom. He hopes to travel in Turkey and exhibit his work in galleries and installations across Turkey, and perhaps even Europe. He wishes to spread a humanitarian message through his art and wants to share this message with the world. He wants to use his art to express the tragedy and challenges of war-torn lives, not just Syrian lives, but that of people all over the world.