A new collective of Syrian artists and activists is trying to send a message to the outside world, by taking inspiration from Banksy.

Under constant threat of bombardment by regime warplanes, Syrian activists are taking inspiration from international artist Banksy in their fight against Assad rule.

The Kesh Malek project aims to shine a light on the plight of ordinary Syrians, as well as challenge depictions of the conflict in certain segments of the international media.

Executive Director Isam Khatib said the aim of the initiative was to ensure their message was getting out there.

“The project’s motive is to use graffiti to amplify civil society voices in Syria and to promote the values of freedom, justice, and democracy, which Syrians have been fighting for since March 2011,” he said.

Kesh Malek/Alaa Alsswid
Kesh Malek/Alaa Alsswid ()

Since the Syrian revolution started in 2011, opponents of the Syrian regime have been smeared as terrorists and extremists not just by Assad, but also his supporters in Western countries.

Such theories have prominent subscribers, including Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters.

In recent months, Waters has sparked controversy for suggesting that the White Helmets, an organisation dedicated to rescuing victims of Assad airstrikes, were actually a propaganda outfit for what he called “jihadists and terrorists”. The musician presented no evidence for his assertions.

Part of what Syrian graffiti artists are doing involves reinforcing the message that it is the regime that is responsible for an overwhelming majority of human rights violations in Syria and directly challenging people like Waters for claims to the contrary.

Kesh Malek/Alaa Alsswid
Kesh Malek/Alaa Alsswid ()

One image in Idlib depicts Waters carrying an assault rifle instead of a guitar with a caption that recalls the lyrics of the Pink Floyd song Hey You.

“A message from Syrians in Idlib to Roger Waters,” it reads, adding: “Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light.”

Halem Kawa, Project Manager for Kesh Malek’s ‘Syria Banksy’ initiative, explained that Syrians were using old fashioned methods to reach new audiences.

Conscious of reaching a truly global audience, the artists made sure to use the English language and references that were relatable to a digitally-savvy audience. 

“We direct our message to Western audiences by first using English, and then referring to global events that are either happening now or happened very recently,” Kawa explained, referring to recent works that played on motifs from the UEFA Champions League.

The artist described how Kesh Malek decided on what images to work on: first the collective decides upon individual designs suggested by members, and after agreeing on one, they get together to paint the design.

In Western countries, the most graffiti artists risk is an arrest for vandalism or misdemeanour. In Syria the risk comes from Assad regime bombs. The regime has also arrested and killed graffiti artists.

But given the inability of many Syrian activists to take part in protests, graffiti is one of the most important means of resistance.

Ahmad Khalil, an artist from Kafr Anbel, told TRT World that as well as serving international supporters, the graffiti also boosted the morale of local residents.

“The graffiti is used to spread the ideas of liberty and revolutionary concepts, its encourages people to resist, stand against oppression, and never give up,” he said.

The Syrian revolution started in March 2011 with localised protests against Assad’s rule but soon spread after a brutal crackdown by forces loyal to the dictator.

The rebels initially gained vast territory across the country, but has since lost territory to the regime due to the international support it gets from Iran and Russia.

More than 500,000 people have died in the war and more than 11 million people have been displaced, with six million fleeing abroad and another five million internally.

Kesh Malek/Alaa Alsswid
Kesh Malek/Alaa Alsswid ()
Source: TRT World