In 2016 I saw a Channel 4 News story titled “The Last Gardener of Aleppo”. It featured Abu Waad, who ran a garden centre in that besieged city, assisted by his 12-year-old son Ibrahim. Throughout the film Abu Waad (his name means Father of the Flowers) described his love and admiration for flowers and plants. This last remaining garden centre was an oasis of calm and beauty for the citizens of Aleppo, who were experiencing death and destruction all around them.
Not long after the film was made, Abu Waad was tragically killed by a bomb, which fell nearby. His garden centre was closed and his son Ibrahim was left fatherless. I wanted to commemorate Abu Waad’s life and work through art, and decided to hold an exhibition where 80% of any proceeds would be divided by the charities UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust. Because of the continuing horrors being endured by the Syrian people, it feels important to celebrate life and beauty at this time.
Many of the pieces in the exhibition are illustrations inspired by the words of Abu Waad, and based on Syrian carpet designs found in my research. All the work is mixed media, incorporating painted papers, drawing, and stencil.
As well as work directly relating to the story of Abu Waad, there are pieces on the theme of “The Oasis” – which celebrate secure and beautiful places – gardens set in harsh environments. The Lemon Tree Trust is involved in helping refugees create gardens in their strange new surroundings, and so I’ve included an artwork about the journeys made by refugees who often travel carrying seeds from home.
Both the UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust have responded positively to this exhibition, and offered materials for display and distribution. I’m grateful for the good work that they do.