Before fleeing Syria, Farid Abdulbaki was famous for his works with ceramics, sculptures and micro-mosaics. The tiny tile in his hand is comprised of thousands of stones, a piece of work worth roughly $20,000. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Famed Syrian artist displays paintings created while living in refugee camps

Farid Abdulbaki’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ exhibit will be displayed May 24-26 in Victoria

Farid Abdulbaki was often seen in the streets of Berlin, carefully dipping one of his two paintbrushes into a cup of instant coffee and painting the streetscapes around him.

The depths of brown bleeding into the paper embodied the stale and colourless world Abdulbaki found himself in, both during the day as he struggled to eat and at night when he returned to the refugee camp he was living in.

There, 300 people were crammed into a tight space filled with cigarette smoke, filth and anger.

“There were a lot of enemies in that group,” Abdulbaki said. “Police came five times a day. “

Abdulbaki came from a world of wealth; in Syria he was a renowned artist specializing in sculptures, ceramics and micro-mosaics. People and museums from around the world commissioned his work, allowing him to eat only the best food and drive the newest cars.

Before fleeing Syria, Farid Abdulbaki was famous for his works with ceramics, sculptures and micro-mosaics. This 1″x1″ tile is comprised of thousands of tiny stones, a piece of work worth roughly $20,000. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Shortly, Abdulbaki would be alone in a foreign land digging through the garbage for food and forgetting the feeling of a hot shower.

“It was a dream to be human again,” he said. “You lose your identity when you become a number on a piece of paper.”

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When the war broke out, Abdulbaki and his family fled to Turkey where he continued to teach post-secondary art in Istanbul and live comfortably.

However, fortune faded when one of his daughters became ill with a condition called hydrocephalus, which causes the brain to swell with excess water. As a family with temporary status they were not granted access to health care. This prompted Abdulbaki to attempt to get refugee status in Germany so he could bring his family over.

Before fleeing Syria, Farid Abdalbaki was famous for his works with ceramics, sculptures and micro-mosaics. He switched to painting while living in refugee camps in Germany. (File submitted/Errant ArtSpace)

In desperation Abdulbaki took his chances on a trip known locally as “the death journey.”

He boarded a small rubber boat made for seven people that was instead crammed with 75. Despite the odds the boat survived its journey, but Abdulbaki would need to continue through seven more countries before arriving at his destination.

When he finally arrived in Berlin he learned that he couldn’t bring his family over and he couldn’t return to Turkey. Abdulbaki fell into a realm of depression and guilt that haunted many in the refugee camps.

Many people, he recalled, died by suicide.

With nothing else left he turned to the only thing knew for solace, his art.

“I began to paint, and not for business but for my soul,” Abdulbaki said, “I needed to heal myself from being in that camp.”

ALSO READ: UVic group seeks to sponsor, mentor refugee family

Using any leftovers from the 100 Euro per month allowance the German government granted him, he saved up for paper and brushes.

He used the bunkbed in his camp as a pop-up gallery, and used social media to promote his art and to connect with the overflowing art scene in Berlin. He managed to sell some pieces, and save up enough money to buy a couple tubes of watercolour paint.

Suddenly Abdulbaki could explore a whole new world in a spectrum he called his “ice cream colours” filled with blues and pinks.

“I wanted to just eat them,” he said. “I wanted to hold them so tight.”

After two-and-a-half years his luck turned; he connected with people in the art realm and was able to set up several displays in local galleries.

It was there he met Victoria artist Ira Hoffecker, a woman who would eventually lead his sponsor group for refugee status in Canada.

ALSO READ: Syrian chocolatier to hire, mentor refugee

Three years, three months and 13 days after holding his wife and children last Abdulbaki reunited with them in Victoria in January 2019, a moment he could not put into words.

Now, just five months after his arrival, Abdulbaki is hosting a gallery to display the works he painted while surviving in Berlin, a show aptly named “Between Two Worlds.”

“In depression you are so honest with yourself because life and death are so close,” Abdulbaki said. “They’re a hair apart, just like dark and light.”

Life and death, dark and light, luxury and poverty. These are the themes his show will portray.

His journey between two worlds continues as he adapts to Canadian life.

Every morning he wakes up under a set of clean sheets with the warmth of his family around him, a dream he never knew could come true again.When he makes coffee in the morning he can cradle the mug a little more gently, knowing now that its contents are for drinking.

Abdulbaki’s show will be at the Errant ArtSpace at 975 Alston St. on May 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. and May 25-26 from 1 to 5 p.m.

For more information you can visit faridabdulbaki.com.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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