Historians tell us that Aleppo is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world.
They say it dates from around the 5th millennium BC, possibly even earlier, and that it was an independent kingdom in 1800 BC, roughly 1000 years before the founding of Rome and Byzantium.
Aleppo and the destruction of this ancient city that has taken place, is a result of more than two years of civil war that is still ongoing, a saga brought into our homes by television.
Then there is an almost daily saturation of visual destruction, numbed faces, refugees and orphaned children, clouds of black smoke and, I repeat, destruction, wanton and needless destruction.
What Rina Badenhorst has portrayed with her series of oil paintings, is not the Aleppo of visual media.
Instead of destruction, the GFI Gallery is filled with creative brilliance.
An image of a pristine white heron is dominant on every canvas.
No harrowing faces, no refugees, no wanton devastation or desolation. Instead, painterly skills, masterly handled, quietness and order, colour and calm.
A fitting tribute to heroic people and a devastated city.
“Aleppo” so distant from Port Elizabeth, is an unexpected subject for a local artist to choose, also Rina never went there.
She knew of this city on the famed Silk Road to the East.
Every traveller for more than a 1000years passed that way, and her research would have revealed images of the Great Souk, one of the most famous markets in the known world and of the Great Mosque. Ibn-Battuta (1304-77), the famous traveller, described the market 600 years after it was built, as the biggest he had ever seen, and he had seen most of them.
Today, the mosque and the market are wastelands, as are the numerous other churches, also the ancient Citadel built in the 13th century by Saladi’s son, Sultan Ghazi.
Modern weapons of destruction have succeeded where others failed.
Aleppo has been no stranger to both pillage and destruction, her situation at a junction of trade routs made her vulnerable.
Known as “Halab”, it is still called by this name today by Arab speakers, it was conquered in relentless succession by the Hurrites, the Hittites, then the Assyrians, Persians and Seluicids. Aleppo has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.
But only under the Romans was it restored and a measure of peace imposed.
After the Arab conquest, the Omayyads built the Great Mosque and developed the markets that surrounded it.
Today, most of this lies in rubble, the world blinded and confused while Bashar al-Assad and Isis quarrel over the region like dogs with a bone, the population turned to refugees and those remaining, living like rats in a spoilage heap.
A sad indictment on our world of intolerance.
Rina’s exhibition is a personal tribute to the ancient city and the people.
To all of them, Arab and Christian, her thoughtful and profound statement, beautifully handled.
A story of anguish told with the metaphor of the white egret as a symbol of hope, of rebirth for the city, and her faith for mankind.
Told without the ugliness of pain, human agony and conflict.
There is not a single human image, only quiet beauty, colour and tone.
Her use of the purity of white is spectacular.
The exhibition intended as a tribute to Aleppo, also reflects Rina’s confidence in herself as an artist.
Over the past 20 years, she has lived up to her reputation as one of our country’s finest leading painters.
- Aleppo. Life in the Rubble of Destruction by Rina Badenhorst at the GFI Art Gallery, to May 31.