Five years have passed and the world has bared witness to the destruction of one of its most ancient cultures, as civil war continues to engulf the Arab nation of Syria.
For Leila Khoury, a 23-year-old American artist living in Cleveland, it's personal. Last year, Khoury, having studied sculpture, reconstructed a traditional bathhouse from her memory, casting concrete into three rubber moulds of tile designs that she had created. Completing everything by hand, Khoury made one hundred 16” x 16” tiles to construct a cubelike installation.
Today, evacuation finally began for those trapped in the besieged city of Aleppo, with thousands more still displaced and a thousand expected to be dead after the Syrian government’s latest attempt to regain the destroyed city. Khoury spent most of these summers in the Syrian capital of Damascus, with many visits to Aleppo, both now places she cannot return to.
“My parents are Syrian-born and most of my relatives still reside there,” she tells The Creators Project. “My siblings and I are first generation Americans and we use to spend almost every summer in Syria as a family, so I grew up with it. It was a very prominent place in my life and a second home to be. I took it for granted.”
Like all Syrians, the bathhouse is special place to Khoury.
“There wasn’t any more main inceptive aside from a natural impulse and way of dealing with the war,” says Khoury, who took two or three months to complete the project. “This is something that I ritualistically worked on every day. Every day I would wake up and go to the studio and create a tile, producing one at a time by hand.”
“My memory of the bathhouse is the actually the last time I went to Syria,” she says. “It was just something that I took for granted at the time, visiting a bathhouse because my mom insisted. But that’s part of their everyday life there. They get to live among this old cultural heritage. It’s such a heavily historic part of the world and you see it everywhere, the whole city of Aleppo is built around ancient Roman ruins, dating from the Roman era to the Ottoman era, there’s these white marble temples and mosques and bathhouses.”
While the cultural heritage found in Syria was formerly under extensive protection, war has caused irreplaceable damage to its antiquity treasures, which hold such historic value.
“Now it can be demolished in a blink of an eye by a barrel bomb and that’s the end of it,” says Khoury.
Over the summer in 2015, Khoury’s Aleppo Bathhouse was exhibited at a World Refugee Day event in Pittsburgh.
“I’m trying to salvage my routes as much as I can in the States. Coping with the war is difficult because I’m so removed from it but at the same time my family has been directly affected. It’s easy for us to have this very one sided idea of the conflict and popularized imagery of somewhere that’s been bombed and ruined but there is still a lack of awareness of the light within it. I think that my role in doing the bathhouse is to honor how it was in times of peace. Honor the culture.”
Most of Khoury’s family living in Damascus was able to emigrate to the US. The rest, continue to live a life of unpredictability due to the country’s continued instability.
See more of the artist’s work here.