“It’s like a small Syria here, but without the violence and the troubles.”
Raghad Mardini stands barefoot in the small green garden, right in front of an old stone building. We’re in Aley, a short drive up the mountains outside Beirut, where Raghad has restored an abandoned horse stables and turned it into a sanctuary for Syrian artists. It belongs to the family of a friend of hers, who wanted to see it renovated as a tribute to his bygone dad. Since it opened, the stables have housed a number of sculptors, painters and creatives who have come to spend one month each in the quiet residency, far from the logic of conflict and war.
“It’s hard times for everyone in Syria right now,” says Raghad. “There are no opportunities, and the artists cannot work. This a way of supporting them. Everything is done from love and compassion, and it pays back.”
Right now, the old building is housing a family. Hasko Hasko, a painter originally from northeastern Syria but residing in Damascus, just arrived with his wife, art teacher Sabe Hasko, and their three children. Since the war started, creating art has become more and more difficult. Not only since there are no buyers and no exhibitions, but also because of the emotional wounds. Most of all, as parents, Hasko and Sabe try not to let their kids become too affected by the violence.
“We came to a point when we were constantly scared. Life in Damascus is not as bad as elsewhere, but we cannot do anything. We didn’t take the kids to the park or a restaurant in two years. Things have become so expensive. There’s no safety. Armed soldiers come storming into the house at four or five in the morning. The kids should not live through that.”
Hasko Hasko continues to paint the way he did before: using pastel colors and portraying peaceful, sensitive animals.
“My art is very far from war. If, as an artist, you become absorbed by war, you have to stop creating art. What’s happening now in the country is beyond comprehension. It’s impossible to create art that represents the violence, the fact that people sign up to kill others. It’s surreal, yet we’re living in the midst of it.”