Ceramic doves hang above the Old City in Damascus as reflection on Syria's war

The art installation is part of an exhibition by students at Damascus University

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Hundreds of ceramic doves are suspended over the streets of the Old City of Damascus, part of an art installation that had been set to make its debut before the start of Syria's war.

The lifelike figurines crafted by Buthaina Al-Ali, a professor at Damascus University's Faculty of Arts, had been gathering dust in a basement since the outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011.

Eleven years on, the 15,000 ceramic birds are finally airborne, appearing in an exhibition curated by Al-Ali's students on the woes of the country's war.

"I had dreamt of decorating the centre of my city and hanging the doves in a crowded place for people to see," said Al-Ali, 48.

"But the war changed everything, and I had to postpone my dream all this time."

The exhibition in the Old City of Damascus, curated by 16 students from the faculty of arts, is titled Once upon a time, a window.

The art on display deals with the displacement, hunger and helplessness wrought by the country's civil war.

"I finally suggested to my students that they take the doves and hang them in a way they see fit," said Al-Ali, who lost two family members to the conflict.

Storybook scene

The students raised the doves in the courtyard of a traditional Damascene home.

The Kozah art gallery in the Old City and adjacent streets were also adorned with the ceramic figurines, some of which are fitted with small LED lights.

The doves are the centrepiece of the exhibition, which features other artworks by students.

An art installation using ceramic pigeons in an alley in the Old City of Damascus as part of an exhibition titled Once upon a time, a window. AFP

"Sadness is the common factor between all the pieces," Al-Ali said.

But for gallery owner Kozah, the exhibition has turned the Old City into a scene from a storybook.

"It's a story displayed out in the open, allowing those who experience it to move from one tale to another," he said.

The doves have been incorporated into student artworks, including an installation by Hammoud Radwan, 24.

His piece, titled A Continued Disappearance, has the doves placed beside portraits of his friends who left Syria in search of a brighter future abroad.

"The pigeons fly beside them to express dispersal," he said.

Since 2011, the war in Syria has killed almost half a million people and forced nearly half the country's pre-war population from their homes, according to Britain's Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

'Pain and exasperation'

In a narrow alley in the Old City, empty plates tied to ceramic pigeons clatter against one another above an empty wooden table.

The installation by student artist Pierre Hamati, 25, titled Syrian Supper, represents the hunger plaguing Syria's population, nearly 60 per cent of whom are food insecure.

"The [empty] table represents our table, and the plates resemble our empty plates." he said.

"The pigeons represent us ... our dreams, ambitions and rights, which are no longer sacred."

The collective exhibition by Syrian artists at Kozah art gallery, represents aspects of life in Syria, such as war, the high cost of living and immigration. AFP

In another installation, 300 pigeons appear suspended in mid-flight on their way out of an abandoned house.

"They are similar to the homes of some Syrians" who had to flee the ravages of war, said Zeina Taatouh, who created the work.

Students Raneem al-Lahham and Hassan al-Maghout locked the birds inside cages in their installation.

Gulnar Sarikhi, another art student, hung the doves upside down, with a knot tied at their feet.

Sarikhi chose the title Impotence for her piece, which represents the helplessness of Syria's people.

"I could not imagine the doves flying," she said.

"I saw them hanging by their legs, embodying the pain and exasperation which we can do nothing about."

Updated: April 14, 2022, 5:16 AM