This painting by Dema Maksod, called Zenobie Palmyra, depicts an ancient queen in Syria. — Adam Kveton Photo

Artist finds her expression in Syrian war destruction

Former refugee tells the stories of strong women with TOSH exhibit

The Syrian Civil War has taken so much away from so many people.

For artist Dema Maksod, it took her art and home.

In 2014, a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed her home and studio in Damascus.

While the experience threw Maksod into depression, she said she sees now that what she lost then was little compared to thousands of others who lost siblings, children, even whole families.

And, though a very hard time to endure, Maksod said that not only did continuing to paint help her out of depression, the experience helped her to find her style.

“I was born (to) do art,” said Maksod, who’s English is progressing, though she’s still learning. Drawing during her childhood, Maksod decided to first learn Psychology at Damascus University, but after chose to study art in 2009.

As she learned, Maksod said she began showing her work, first in group shows then in solo shows and, step by step, grew her career.

But her progress was interrupted when she lost her studio, her home and much of her artwork.

“War in Syria make me different artist,” she said. Moving back to her family home in Latakia in Syria, she fell into depression.

“I do paintings in my room without talking to anybody,” said Maksod. She avoided all media, saying that she would often find out that a friend or someone she knew had died, or children. “Situation was very, very hard for people in Syria,” she said.

But, for her, “something negative make something positive,” she said.

“This was surprising to me, because when I’m sad and (have) depression, I’m going to do art to change my situation. What happened after I did art, after I lose a little bit my depression, I’m looking what I did do in my depression: I use different tools, I use different materials, so this make seeing my paintings, oh wow, I find it. You know, I find my style.”

From then on, she said no one had to look for her name on a painting: people who knew her style recognized it right away.

Maksod gained confidence with this and continued her career, with her new style earning her attention in Syria. Her work also found its way into collections in the Middle East and in Europe.

In 2016, Maksod moved to Lebanon to establish a studio, and ran workshops for refugee children in camps, she said.

In 2017, Maksod arrived in Canada.

In addition to her sponsors in Canada, Vancouver Island University has been an important supporter, said Maksod, providing her studio space and space for her first Canadian exhibit on the fifth floor of the VIU library last summer.

With help from supporters, Maksod also met with TOSH’s (The Old School House Arts Centre, 122 Fern Rd. West, Qualicum Beach) executive director, Corinne James, who provided her space for another exhibit.

Maksod’s work has been up at TOSH since Jan. 21, and will remain up for a few more days, until Feb. 16.

Maksod said that, with this exhibit, she used her new style with new feeling.

Her work often features women she’s met or observed. Up until recently, that’s meant a lot of Maksod’s work has depicted the women effected by the war in Syria: women who are refugees and have lost so much.

But for her TOSH exhibit, Maksod said she’s focused on happy, strong women, and women she’s met in Canada.

One of her paintings depicts Zenobia, an ancient queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria.

Maksod has also painted herself, realizing her work in acrylic paint, often in golds, reds and browns, and with many layers.

Even Maksod’s idea of who can be a woman has expanded upon meeting people in Canada, she said, and telling a bit of those stories is her aim with her TOSH exhibit.

The exhibit continues until Feb. 16.

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