The Raqqa artists who reintroduced cultural activity to the city after Daesh attempted to destroy it
Haidar Jum’a al-Hamo is a Syrian artist from the city of Raqqa whose work reflects the state of art throughout Daesh’s occupation of the city. Before Daesh took control in 2014, Haidar created doz-ens of stone statues with his father from whom he learnt the craft. Haidar’s passion for art collided with Daesh who prohibited painting, sculpturing and music, and persecuted artists.
The talent of the 18-year-old artist was discovered by his father when he was 12 years old. Since then, Haidar’s father has worked closely with him to further develop his skills and art techniques. At the age of 12, one of Haidar’s paintings, depicting tanks and de-stroyed houses, was displayed at an exhibition in Saudi Arabia.
Since then, Haidar has continued to refine his talent with persis-tence and passion. In 2014, just before Daesh took control of the city, he had produced 60 paintings and sculptures for a local exhibi-tion. With Daesh’s occupation, the exhibition was cancelled and the aspirations of Haidar and many other artists were shattered. “Artists in Raqqa were incredibly afraid and many fled, but my father and I stayed at home, continuing to secretly sculpt and hide the pieces,” said Haidar.
Haidar continued to secretly paint and sculpt throughout Daesh’s control of the city but he had to bury all the carved pieces under the dirt, fearing that Daesh would find out about his art. Eventually, Hai-dar fled from Raqqa to Saudi Arabia. Daesh tried to destroy cultural heritage and systematically targeted ancient statues, artefacts, and antiquities. Daesh caused severe damage to more than 30 archaeo-logical sites in Syria and Iraq. After the liberation of Raqqa in Octo-ber 2017, Haidar, like many other artists, was able to practice his passion freely again.
After the liberation in 2017, Haidar returned to Raqqa. His first piece of art depicted the story of destruction, inspired by pictures his fa-ther took of the city upon their return. Father and son worked on carving the pictures into stone, creating a piece of art that tells the story of the city that endured Daesh’s occupation and destruction, as well as current recovery efforts.
During the lockdown in Raqqa due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hai-dar stayed home and continued his artwork in the backyard of his house. He encourages all young men and women to discover and refine their latent talents and not to let anything or anyone stand in the way of their dreams. Like many artists, Haidar is bringing art and culture back to his city.