New year’s night, January 1, 2017
This girl had come out of Eastern Aleppo after four dark years of occupation by Western-backed terrorists – too many to name. People who for no reason had destroyed her home, her part of that beautiful city.
Perhaps half of her life living in fear, perhaps having lost family members.
I do not know.
I met her on December 14 at the Jibrin reception and registration centre in Western Aleppo where Syrian soldiers and volunteers from Aleppo University had just given her this bread with some vegetables inside.
She was one of thousands, old and young people who had been hit by unspeakable evil, death and destruction.
Victims of the dozens of conflicting parties and their criminal games. Destroying her life, her family, livelihood and her home town.
Of which there is nothing left. Nothing.
It was a rainy gray day. She was in a queue to get this little and she was so very grateful.
So hopeful. A little to eat to begin all over again.
Her standing there, her gesture. And the media tell you that Eastern Aleppo fell, that it wasn’t liberated?
Ask this girl.
Grasp her gratitude for what little most of the world take for granted. And those eyes.
I could not hold back tears in mine when I shot this image. Neither while I returned to process it and now writing this.
I’m a peace researcher and art photographer. The two sides come together in this image.
It’s the most important among thousands of pictures I took in 2016. Perhaps in all my years.
I have no wishes for myself this year. Have everything.
But I have many other wishes.
That this little but formidably strong girl and the thousands of other children and adults of Aleppo will live in some little peace in 2017.
That they will have the strength to return to what is left of their homes, if anything, and rebuild them. Go to a school and play in safety.
That the inhuman international “community” – it is no community – will lift the sanctions on Syria and show their humanity. Sanctions only hit innocents like her.
That she will live forever in security and peace and that she will not carry traumas from her childhood for the rest of her life.
That she will be able to, eventually, forgive the satanic forces who did this to an innocent child.
And that I may go back in 2017 and find her and ask how I can help her.
That’s the very very least I can do in gratitude for what she has taught me about the utter meaninglessness and cruelty of war.
No I can’t. I can’t wish anybody dead.
But I can express my rage through Bob Dylan. Who, fifty-three years ago, spoke to “The Masters Of War” – and I include the arms traders among them – thus:
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.
Damascus-Beirut, December 19, 2016
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Dear friend of art photography and other art
The photo above is a digital gift – a moment for reflection – to you from Oberg PhotoGraphics.
Welcome to new recipients. Here is the preceding shoot.
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This shoot is very different from what I normally send you. I can hold no Christmas exhibition or send you Christmas offers this year.
I went to Damascus, Syria, as peace and conflict researcher, to do fact-finding, interviews, gathering impressions and think about roads to peace.
As you may know that is the other side of my life. I have just come out, writing to you from Beirut.
I was in Aleppo, bombs falling day and night, when you heard that it was liberated or fell depending on media and perspective. The photo above is from the Jibrin Reception Centre in Western Aleppo where about 100.000 people from Eastern Aleppo get humanitarian assistance by the Syrian government.
They have come out after four years of hell under the occupation of the Western-supported fighters/rebels/opposition/terrorists – again variable terminology.
It’s all extremely complicated. But what is not complicated is to feel deep sympathy with the real victims in every war: the innocent civilians who are always hit by those who speak the language of weapons.
As a peace and conflict researcher having worked in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Iraq and Burundi, I have never ever seen anything like the destruction of Aleppo.
It’s a wasteland of dozens upon dozens of square kilometres. Endless, systematic destruction of culture, history, mosques, basars, industrial areas etc. Human suffering beyond words. And how many dead?
Look at the footwear of those on this photo. Aleppo will not be rebuilt before these children are 30 or 40. It used to be one of the biggest industrial centres in the Middle East.
Eastern Aleppo, Syria © Jan Oberg 2016
Eastern Aleppo, Syria © Jan Oberg 2016
These photos are unique. I was among the first ten to get there.
I’m no war photographer or reporter. But my work compels me to share a bit of what I have seen. I’m afraid most of us in Europe have been misinformed by media to such an extent that we do not comprehend the death and destruction. I was reminded of images from World War II.
Let me end with this little girl whose eyes and gesture touched me so deeply.
She is the victim of international politics, the weapons of the Syrian side, the terrorist side, the US and NATO side and Russian side. A piece of bread made her feel hope.
When will we ever learn?
Child from Eastern Aleppo, Syria
© Jan Oberg 2016
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Until next: Remember
– that it is the arts more than anything else that keep us human and, given the state of the world right now, therefore more needed than ever.
And during the coming holidays I try to understand what Aleppo is and what it will mean in world history. In the best of cases we may see yet another example of that enigmatic human will to survive and move on.
Time will tell.
My best – and Merry Christmas to those among my recipients who celebrate Christmas
“Take an object
Do something to it
Do something else to it”
– Jasper Johns
In 2011 I made two photo collage works (see below) dealing with the similarities between the Norwegian Edvard Munch and American Jasper Johns – both outstanding painters and printmakers, both interested in psychological explorations and one associated with European/German expressionism, the other with American abstract expressionism.
I was inspired, of course, by their crosshatching or, rather, John’s use of crosshatching. It was only a short time back that I had visited the Munch Museum in Oslo.
While I have never particularly liked The Scream in any of its versions or his – too many – many self portraits, I was struck by the Self Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed painted between 1940 and 1943:
And I was fascinated by the crosshatch pattern on the bedspread and Johns’ somewhat similar crosshatching as a connector between the two.
It belongs to the story that I own a few prints by Johns, among them the 1977 Untitled from ULAE – United Limited Art Editions created by legendary Russian American Tatyana Grosman:
This is a very typical Johns print from those years: the Savarin instant coffee metal can with paint brushes on a wooden table, the crosshatch pattern in light and dark versions, the image divided in three parts and some enigmatic stuff in the middle – brush dots and fingerprints. (Johns has always been enigmatic, a bit like Bob Dylan*). And it’s printed on a thick rough-surfaced J. Green paper with amazing saturation and depth.
I’ve been looking at it almost every day since 1977.
Little did I know…
Little did I know at the time that 5 years later Continue reading