The Story of A Kurdish Artist Chasing Freedom

Kurdish artist Osso grew up in Rojava, Syria. He was surrounded by artists and painters that gave him a shot of inspiration to begin drawing.Osso

When he was a child, the art teacher asked all the pupils to draw the October War between Syria and Israel, which was something that all the pupils in Syria had to paint at least once. Pupils had to paint details of the battle, with its tanks and bleeding soldiers.

Osso wanted to paint the war in his own way, so he drew a pile of black smoke, which wasn’t exactly what his teacher had required so he asked Osso that he had to learn how to draw properly.

That was Osso’s first drawing memory.

Osso was motivated by his sisters to study at the Art Academy in Damascus for 2 years. For that purpose, he left his family at the age of 16 and headed toward the Syrian capital on his own to chase his passion. He had to work while studying in order to keep going.

After he finished his studies, he did a number of exhibitions in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo between 1997 and 1999, where he focused on painting elder men faces. “I find it so enjoyable to draw wrinkles.” he told ZîV.

Osso also focused on drawing women in his exhibitions, particularly Kurdish woman.12439213_1045212082202491_7242628741507479112_n (2)

The general atmosphere in Damascus was too negative for him. He felt that the artistic scene in Damascus was too unnatural for him, where many artists were trying to copy others’ works and look down on emerging artists.

This, along with political oppression on artists and on everyone else, led him to leave the country and move to Beirut, where he felt more liberated, despite the fact that his Arabic at the point wasn’t perfect yet.12400527_1045212112202488_308460387274310482_n (2)

He wanted to learn more about art academically so he studied art at the Academy of Arts in Beirut for 2 more years and was even granted honors for his grades.

Osso held exhibitions in Beirut as well between 2000 and 2003, but that didn’t give him the freedom he was looking for. There were still restrictions on art, as the Syrian regime was technically in power in Lebanon at that time, so it internally he didn’t feel being away from Syria.

Osso decided to risk with everything he had already built in Lebanon and left the Middle Eastern country in order to achieve his dreams. First he moved to Ukraine then to Russia where he lived for a couple of months. In 2008 he travelled to Vienna with a fake passport.

When he was in the plane, the broker told him that he must get rid of his passport before the flight landed in Vienna. He went to the toilet and ripped his fake passport off, but the front page was too hard to be ripped off by hands and he wasn’t allowed to get a pair of scissors. When he finally was able to rip it off, the process of flushing the papers was very difficult. The toilet queue was getting longer on the plane. In the end, he had to use his hands to push the papers down the toilet hole and it worked.

When the plane landed, he started to wander around at the airport in Vienna for 12 hours. It was the European soccer championship just like now. He joined a bunch of football fans and had drinks with them until the evening, when he finally went to the border control at the airport and claimed asylum.

In his asylum court, he drew a hand and said to the judge: “I came here to be a free artist. If I go back to Syria, all my dreams will fall apart.”

He won his case and immediately began to create a life for himself in Vienna from scratch. He didn’t know anyone there and did not speak the language. However, 8 months later, he already was ready to hold his first exhibition in the country.

In his paintings, he focused on the narrow view about women by the society and how it should be changed.13325477_1134337066623325_7294489243612030050_n13450238_1142382692485429_5660512125695907746_n

After the revolution broke out against the Syrian regime, Osso and 10 other European artists gathered themselves to make a joint exhibition in Vienna about the regime’s oppression and the struggle of the Syrian people.

The Dictator. 2013
The Dictator. 2013
Osso standing next to his painting for Kobani. 2016
Osso standing next to his painting for Kobani. 2016

Osso said in the end of our conversation: “When I was a young lad living in Syria, I used to paint and draw the lush nature of Europe, with its red houses and green mountains. Now that I am in Europe, I long to paint houses in my hometown, those small cozy houses and those colorful traditional fabrics. I always dream about my old house in Hasaka. I really miss it.”

Osso hasn’t seen his mother for 10 years as he is waiting to get his Austrian passport. “I will hopefully get my passport in a couple of months. The first thing I will do is fly and see my mother.”

The Farewell. 2016
The Farewell. 2016

You can check more of Osso paintings on his website: