Amani al-Ali, a Syrian painter and cartoonist who portrays violence in Idleb

With cartoons and paintings, artist Amani al-Ali describes the daily violence in the Syrian region of Idleb, which has been bombed for three months.

Shells, blood and taboos: Using caricatures, ignoring jihadists and what will they say, Amani al-Ali describes the darkness of everyday life in the Idleb region (northwest of Syria) theatre of intense bombing over the past three months. ” I try to communicate what others have trouble expressing,’ explains the 30-year-old artist, in her workshop, leaning on a tablet, digital pen in hand. Dominated by jihadists, the region of Idleb, home to about three million people, has been subjected since the end of April to attacks by the Damascus regime and its Russian ally.

In his cartoons and paintings, Amani al-Ali, a long red jacket and white lace scarf on the head, denounces the indifference of the international community to the bloodshed. On one of the sketches, the world is thus depicted as an ostrich burying its head in a cluster of bloody skulls, while red missiles are pouring around. Another drawing entitled Eid in Idleb shows a fighter plane dropping candy filled with TNT instead of the confectionery usually distributed during the celebration marking the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Black and white, red stains, the colours of the drawings are inspired, according to the artist, by the daily life of the inhabitants of the region. ” All we see is blood, darkness and destruction,’ Amani al-Ali deplores.

“Start a new life”

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), the violence has killed more than 780 civilians, including more than 190 children, since the end of April, despite an agreement reached in September between Russia, an unwavering ally of the Syrian regime, and Turkey, godfather of some rebel groups.Amani al-Ali did not hesitate to pin this pact by sketching it in the form of blood-stained paper.

Before the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011, the young woman was teaching the arts in a private school in Idleb. But after the conquest of the region by rebel groups in 2015, she decided to “start a new life” trying to portray the multiple realities of a war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions. The young woman, whose sketches were on display in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, made her first drawings in secret because her father prohibited her from doing so. ” I broke with customs and tradition” and had to “confront my parents in order to succeed in imposing the life I wanted”, she told AFP, regretting that it was not seen well in her society for a woman to engage in caricature.

Eradicating stereotypes

The young artist does not spare the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Cham (HTS, the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) who took control of northwestern Syria, ignoring arrests and assassinations targeting dissident voices. In November 2018, one of the leaders of the uprising against the Damascus regime in Idleb, also critical of extremist groups, Raëd Fares, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. ” Many people tell me I should be careful,’ admits Amani al-Ali. One of his drawings depicts a bearded man injecting religious bans through a giant syringe into another man’s skull.

“What I hear most is that I am a woman and that I should not draw such things,” the artist reports, who thinks he has as many fans as enemies and is delighted to see his work and courage praised abroad. ” During my exhibition in the United Kingdom, many British academics were surprised to see a woman make such drawings during the reign (of jihadists) of HTS,’ she says. His drawings are now shown in France and an exhibition is being prepared in Turkey. If the young artist is at risk of being absent for lack of a visa, she hopes that her work will help shed light on the multiple forms of violence in Idleb and eradicate the stereotypes associated with women in that region. They are not “voiceless, unable to leave their homes and always dressed in black”, says the artist. ” Of course, there are certain limits, but we resist”.