His war stories can get pretty graphic.
A new art exhibit sketches one man’s journey through the chaos of the Syrian civil war, fleeing from the home of terrorist group ISIS to safety in Turkey. “Syria In Ink,” opening at Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch on May 15, features the words of Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham alongside drawings from New York City artist Molly Crabapple. Hisham hopes that the illustrated memoir will leave a record of the struggles facing the Syrian people that will last longer than his words alone.
“I think it leaves a better impression,” said Hisham, speaking via Skype from Istanbul. “Words can sometimes be more easily forgotten. Illustrations last longer in your memories.”
The exhibit draws from the upcoming graphic novel “Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War.” Crabapple, a journalist and artist known for chronicling the Occupy Wall Street movement, traveled to Syria in 2014 to draw at the sites of bombings and at a camp for displaced Syrians, but she based most of her drawings for the book on Hisham’s eyewitness testimony, as well as on hundreds of social media images and videos from protests and attacks in the war-torn country.
Visitors to the exhibit can wear headsets, through which Crabapple and Hisham describe the stories behind the images, which include masked ISIS fighters raising their infamous black flag, smoke rising from the ground after air strikes, and massive anti-government demonstrations at the University of Aleppo — Hisham’s alma mater.
Crabapple says that art can help fill the voids of history, creating images based on the memories of witnesses, in places where photographers cannot go.
“Art can resurrect what could otherwise be lost,” she said.
Hisham’s home city of Raqqa, once the capital of ISIS, was largely destroyed after a major offensive by the United States and Syrian allies. Crabapple hopes her drawings can help preserve the memory of the city as Hisham knew it, before the battle.
“I was very concerned with daily life in Raqqa,” she said. “I wanted to show it was a place people ran their daily lives, struggling to survive under an evil occupation.”
The exhibit also explores how people under ISIS rule reconciled their opposition to the group with their need to survive. Some residents of Mosul willingly stayed under the group’s rule, even when they could have left, said Hisham.
“Some had property, houses, sectarianism played an important role,” he said. “And it could be a sense of security.”
Crabapple will speak at the opening on May 15, and Hisham will share a video message from Turkey. He hopes the drawings and words will inform people in the United States about the extraordinary hardships faced by all Syrians.
“It’s a simple caricature, it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about a Syrian who lived through this, and how he perceived and reacted to what was going on.”
“Syria In Ink” at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch (10 Grand Army Plaza at Eastern Parkway in Prospect Heights, (718) 230–2100, www.bklyn