Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
A new short film captures refugee artists carefully modeling treasured Syrian sites destroyed by war.
The Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan is home to 80,000 Syrians forced from their homeland by civil war. As local government and NGOs struggle to meet infrastructure needs, Zaatari has emerged as a “do-it-yourself city.” Hand-cobbled homes, shops, and sewage networks make life possible, against long odds.
Art happens there, too, and some of it has a scrappy, defiant quality to match the surroundings. To bring a bit of home to their adopted city, a group of artists are creating models of treasured Syrian monuments destroyed by war, as a new short film by Great Big Story documents.
The UNESCO-protected ruins of Palmyra, the temple of Baal Shami, the old city of Aleppo: These a few of the precious sites wrecked by violence, wrenched from Syrians and from the world. Using clay, wood, found scraps, and ingenuity, the 15 artists work from photographs and their memories to reproduce the millennia-old cultural touchstones. Their models are a way of passing on these places to the younger generation, now that they are unable to visit them themselves. It is healing, yet difficult work for the creators.
“It is a mix really, of sadness, grief, and elation,” says artist Tamam Khediwe in the film. “The prevailing feeling is happiness because I have a memory of my country.”