This Is Aleppo by khaled akil


The Unmentioned - 2011. by khaled akil

Joobin Bekhrad | September 17, 2012


You’re originally a lawyer, by profession. When did you begin taking photographs, and how did you end up going down the artistic route?

I have two idols in my life – my father, and my grandfather. My maternal grandfather is a judge by profession, and has always had an obsession with photography, as far as I can remember. I spent my childhood with him, taking photos with his cameras, and later, for my 16th birthday, he gave me my first camera as a present. It was at that point that my passion for photography began.

As for my father – he is one of the most famous painter in Syria, from whom I learned that the most important thing in one’s life is to do what they love doing. This is the route that I have taken in life, and which I continue to take. After completing my studies in Law and Political Science, I discovered that I couldn’t live without making art that would ‘serve’ my country in the best possible way.

What is the story behind the photographs in the Unmentioned series? You seem to be tackling a variety of different subjects in the photographs, such as religion, war, and sexuality.

The story behind the photographs in the Unmentioned series is the story of my life, the story of Syria, and simply put, the story of all the countries in the Middle East.

Three things are behind the war, and the complicated times we live in now in Syria: religion, sex, and politics.

The Unmentioned is a blatant ‘NO’ to the war in Syria, and the dictatorship in the region. I began working on the pieces two years ago, way before the revolution began in Syria, as I felt that the way were living would eventually result in the Syrian revolution. That is why I tried to raise some awareness among Syrians, by focusing on the real problems they should be aware of, so that the revolution wouldn’t take on a religious aspect, and more specifically, an extremist one.


When I first started working on the pieces in the series, people here in Syria took me for a fool for exposing ‘negligible taboos’. Now they understand what I was trying to say, but it’s too late, unfortunately.

Have the photographs in the series ever been exhibited in Syria? If so, what has been the response to them thus far?

Yes – the 25 works in the Unmentioned series have been exhibited in Aleppo. People were shocked, and others criticised the ‘way of pointing directly to our taboos’, as they put it.

Three things are behind the war, and the complicated times we live in now in Syria: religion, sex, and politics

To be sincere, I am the first artist in Aleppo who has had the courage to say ‘NO’ to the censorship implemented by the regime, as well as Syrian society. I’m also the first who has rejected the idea of making ‘beautiful’ art that does nothing but lie to one’s fans, and one’s audience.

The role of art is to present the truth, and sometimes this means exposing the ‘ugly’ truth, resulting in ‘ugly’ art.

For a short while, you left Aleppo for Istanbul, only to return. What made you return to Syria, amidst all the recent upheavals?

The importance of Aleppo and its geographical location near the Turkish border caused it to become the final obstacle in the revolution in Syria, or as they say, the ‘mother of all battles’.

Knowing that Aleppo was under siege was the reason my wife and I returned to Aleppo. Being an artist doesn’t really support one’s city and one’s people in itself, and when the war broke out in Aleppo, we felt we had to be there, like so many other people who were trying to rescue and help other people in need.


How has the turmoil and chaos in Syria affected your work as an artist? Are you still producing work these days?

Of course, the turmoil has affected my work. A photographer holding his camera is the same as a militant holding his Kalashnikov. The camera is a weapon, because it reveals the ugly truth, and removes all masks.

As for my new works, the recent upheavals have had a major role in expanding my perspective on war; that is, I now know that war is the same all over the world, and that it is a global language that everyone understands. My role is to translate this global language into artworks that relate to a specific country called Syria.

How is the art scene in general coping – if one can use such a word – with the situation there? Would it be wrong to assume that, as they say, ‘life goes on’?

First of all, I must affirm that art for an artist is neither a job, nor a hobby; it is a basic need, in my opinion.

As for the art scene in general, I can’t say that ‘life goes on’, as an art scene is a collective scene in which everyone participates: the artist, their fans, the audience, and the media, of course. Currently, art is a luxury, whereas documentary work is a must, and a need.


Unless your goal is to benefit from the suffering of your own people, today it would be better, perhaps, to let go of your ego a bit, and try to feel and live through the suffering yourself. This is an experience in itself that can affect everyone’s lives.

It’s often been mentioned that misfortune and suffering are excellent sources of creativity. Would you agree in the case of Syrian artists – living both in Syria, and in the diaspora?

You are definitely right – creativity is born from the heart of suffering and misfortune. As a Syrian artist living in Syria, and witnessing the horror with my own eyes and ears, my work is obviously significantly different that the art of artists living abroad.

A photographer holding his camera is the same as a militant holding his Kalashnikov. The camera is a weapon, because it reveals the ugly truth, and removes all masks

Dealing with the subject of Syria is way too problematic; I always say that you can never understand it unless you live it. On the other hand, when political awareness rises, it is generally accompanied by a social and cultural awareness. That is one of the many benefits we have enjoyed as a result of the Syrian revolution. As I’ve already mentioned, the war has played a major role in expanding my artistic perspective, which in a way is a sort of ‘blessing’ for me.

In the recent uprisings around the Arab world, art – street art in particular – has often served as a catalyst for change, and has had a major influence on the public psyche. What role, if any, is art playing in pushing for change in Syria?

To tell you the truth, street art is not something we’ve really had in Syria, as a result of 40 years of dictatorship that forbade any form of art that didn’t glorify the regime.


Art needs freedom, and it brings a limitless political and social awareness. That is why I can simply say that art is forbidden in Syria. Art in Syria is not ‘powerful’ enough to bring about change in the best possible way.

People in Syria are still afraid. In fact, they are also – believe it or not – afraid of freedom. We need another 40 years just to clarify that you don’t need guns and Kalashnikovs to make change; you need a beautiful mind and an ethical culture to bring about the most peaceful change imaginable.

What does the near future hold in store for Khaled Akil – artistically and personally?

I truly hope that the near future will be better than the present. On the bright side, The Unmentionedwill potentially be exhibited in Istanbul in December 2012, as well as elsewhere, most likely in Europe.

My new works are being produced with sadness and anger, more than anything else, and will reveal the truth of the past 17 months, which have seen over 30,000 dead in a devastated ‘free’ country.

In fact, as I am talking to you, all I can hear around me is the sound of bombardments, gun shots, and ambulances – this says it all!

As for my personal near future, all I can say is that my wife – whom I married only five months ago – and I are trying to start a new life; a peaceful and truthful one, despite all we’ve lived through, and are about to live through.


Ain Dara Temple - Syria before the war by khaled akil

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

The Ain Dara temple, located near the village of Ain Dara, northwest of AleppoSyria,  is an Iron Age Syro-Hittite temple noted for its similarities to Solomon's Temple as described in the Hebrew Bible.

According to the excavator Ali Abu Assaf, it was in existence from 1300 BC until 740 BC and remained "basically the same" during the period of the Solomonic Temple's construction (1000 - 900 BC) as it had been before, so that it predates the Solomonic Temple.


Feb 2011, © khaled akil

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

The discovery of the temple was the result of a fortuitous finding of a colossal basalt lion in 1955. Excavations in 1956, 1962, and 1964 were conducted by Maurice Dunand and Feisal Seirafi; beginning in 1976, Ali Abu Assaf continued the work. He discovered the temple and inferred that it was built in three structural phases in the period from about 1300 BC to 740 BC. The first phase was from 1300 BC to 1000 BC, the second phase from 1000 BC to 900 BC, and third phase from 900 BC to 740 B.C.E. This was preceded by the Catholic  period during the fourth millennium BC the tell remained occupied until the Ottoman period  (1517 -1917).

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

A pair of large, bare footprints, each about 3 feet (0.91 m) in length, are carved into the stone floors of the portico, followed by a single footprint carved beyond the first two, and another single footprint carved into the threshold, “marking the deity’s procession into the cella”.It is also conjectured who? that these foot prints could be of unidentified "immense clawed creatures". The inference is that the right footprint seen on the threshold, which is spaced at about 30 feet (9.1 m) from the first footprint, could be of human or goddess, 65 feet (20 m) in height. It has also been noted that the deities in all the Ain Dara temple reliefs have "shoes with curled-up toes". Hence, the source of the footprints, whether of gods or humans or animals, is debatable.

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

Feb 2011, © khaled akil

A courtyard built with sandstones provides approach to the temple. The courtyard is paved with flagstones where a chalkstone basin for ceremonial purposes is seen. The temple, 98 by 65 ft (30 by 20 m) in size, faces southeast. Its exterior contains a cherubim relief. The entrance porch, or portico, marked by two basalt piers or pillars, and a wide hall, were not roofed over and were part of an open courtyard. The entrance pillars appear to have architectural and cultic significance. sphinx and two lions decorate the temple portico flanking the three steps (out of four) made in basalt.


Aleppo City "Halab" by khaled akil

360 X 120 cm, Printed on fine art paper  2011

360 X 120 cm, Printed on fine art paper  2011

Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it has been inhabited since perhaps as early as the 6th millennium BC.Excavations at Tell Qaramel (25 km north of Aleppo) show the area to have been inhabited since the 11th millennium BC, which makes it the oldest known human settlement in the world.Aleppo appears in historical records as an important city much earlier than Damascus. The first record of Aleppo comes from the third millenium BC, when Aleppo was the capital of an independent kingdom closely related to Ebla, known as Armi to Ebla and Arman to the Akkadians. Giovanni Pettinato describes Armi as Ebla's alter ego. Naram-Sin of Akkad (or his grandfather Sargon) destroyed both Ebla and Arman in the 23rd century BC.

200 X 120 cm, Printed on fine art paper, Editions of 8, 2011

200 X 120 cm, Printed on fine art paper, Editions of 8, 2011

Aleppo was known to antiquity as Khalpe, Khalibon, and to the Greeks as Beroea (Βέροια). During the Crusades, and again during the French occupation for Syria and the Lebanon, the name Alep was used: "Aleppo" is an Italianised version of this. However, the ancient name of the city, Halab, is of obscure origin.

Aleppo became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516, when the city had around 50,000 inhabitants. It was the center of the Vilayet of Aleppo and the capital of Syria

Aleppo is a city of several and mixed architectural styles. Numerous invaders, from Byzantines and Seljuks to Mamluks and Ottomans have left their architectural marks on the city, whose origins can be traced back more than 2000 years.