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The Architect: Rebuilding a Dying City

Guest post by Eliana Reeves (intern at Counterpoints Arts), written post Refugee Week.

The young boy stands among the ruins of his school with his camera phone. Another child blinks curiously at him as he takes pictures of buildings that have been devastated by bombing after bombing. Then he enters his workshop and he begins to draw.

There is a raw beauty to this film in its youthful wonder and perspective – each cut-out wall and colored window is crafted with vibrance and pride. “My city has the most beautiful streets,” the young boy says. He recreates them with his graphite pencil and ruler. It is not an overgeneralization to say that the perspective of a child is very different than that of an adult. Children see with open minds and inquisitive eyes and although they have less experience, they can somehow sense the truth within what lies in front of them. As the boy gazes upon the photographs of his beloved Aleppo destroyed, he remembers the life that used to dwell behind each brick and the people who have either abandoned their homes or have died alongside them.

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He completes his first project: a model of the neighbourhood in which he used to reside, now reduced to wreckage. He has painted barricades, put up revolution flags, built his old house from scissors and glue and memory. When he visits the buildings he has reconstructed, they are either empty and collecting dust or nonexistent. He has erected a city from paper that is somehow stronger than the one carved from stone.

One month later, and the young boy has moved on from the model of the blocks he knows and has reached into the future. His newest accomplishment stretches over an entire table and it feels as if it encompasses the world. It is his city, reimagined, skyscrapers stretching to the heavens, cottages dotting the countryside, painted with blues and yellows and purples: colors of hope and of peace. There is a monorail, a football stadium, and tower after tower; unscathed and crafted with reverence. This is destruction reconstructed roof by roof. He has pushed the life back into each brick and drawn streets without barricades.

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Yet even in this room filled with optimism, he moves from the table to his collection of missiles. They are labeled with their impact: “This one destroyed my school,” “this one killed my friend,” “this one destroyed my home,” “this one killed my teacher.” Their rusting metal shells contrast starkly with the vivid city behind him. They are remaining pieces of the real Aleppo – the one that sits outside his workshop window no matter how hard he tries to ignore it. His fantasy and innovation remains trapped within the room despite its fullness and brilliance.

The children of Syria have watched their houses be riddled with bullet holes and struck from the air. They have lost family members, friends, neighbours, mentors, people they barely knew and some they knew innately. They have watched the only home they’ve ever known burn to ashes, and still they find it within them to dream. This young architect and those his age around him remain imaginative, constructing working visions in their minds and searching for the hometown that they’ve lost. Aleppo is fading, and yet it lives on in all its glory in the hearts of the youth, encapsulated by their cameras and built back up again by small hands with harmony as concrete and remembrance as mortar.

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“The Architect” was part of the Moving Worlds film offer for Refugee Week 2017, curated by Counterpoints Arts and Highlight Arts. Film and images by Mojahed Abo Aljood.