A Young Photographer's Lens Looks Past Syria's Conflict

Emily DeRuy and Geneva Sands

A pair of young artists have joined together to bring attention to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Netherlands-native Ruben Elsinga, 30, sees the war-torn images of Syria on the news, but they don't depict the country he fell in love with during the year and a half he spent working there in 2009.


A man mourns a loved one in Syria in one of Abas' drawings

Soulaf Abas, 28, spent her childhood in Syria before moving to the United States in 2006 to study at Indiana State University, and was shocked by the destruction she found when she returned home a year into the war during the summer of 2012. She found her childhood playground decimated, and her friends and family spoke of the smell of burning flesh wafting through Damascus.

While Elsinga and Abas have vastly different backgrounds and experiences, when it comes to Syria, they each found themselves devastated by the destruction of the land they love and wanted to do something to help bring the country back to life.

Both turned to art to process the conflict, Elsinga to photographs he had taken before the war broke out and Abas to paintings of the present destruction. Now the duo are joining forces to showcase their work in an exhibit to bring awareness to what is happening in Syria and a new education program they are launching to bring language and art education to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan.


"Syria fell apart and nobody really knew what to do," Elsinga told Fusion. "I started to realize that I could do something and I had to do something."

Entitled, "Syria: What Was, What Is and What Will Be," the exhibit pairs Elsinga's pictures of daily life in the more peaceful Syria of 2009-10 with Abas' paintings of the bombed-out buildings and grief-stricken faces of present Syria.


Here's a brief look at some of the work:

What Was


A peaceful Syrian neighborhood


Cars line a peaceful Syrian street

What Is


An explosion rocks a neighborhood in Syria


A man is grief-stricken from the conflict tearing apart his country

What Will Be


Elsinga told Fusion no one can know exactly what the country's future looks like yet, but he's optimistic. And he's looking to the children currently living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan to help breathe life back into Syria. The pair have partnered with Pelikino to bring language skills to the children, but they also feel art will allow for a "therapeutic outlet for the horrors" the kids have seen in the past couple of years. That program will launch in the spring.

The exhibit is currently showing in Washington, D.C. The work will next be displayed in New York, followed by exhibitions around the United States, Europe and the Middle East.


Most of all, Elsinga said, he hopes the project brings awareness to the fact that the conflict is impacting very real people - children who should be riding their bikes instead of worrying about gunfire; parents who have been forced to bury their children - who are not so different from those who visit the exhibition.


Syrian children ride their bikes

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.


Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.

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