Picture of hope for Aleppo

This oil painting is one of the key works of Rina Badenhorst’s metaphorical exploration of life in the rubble of Aleppo, Syria

Historians tell us that Aleppo is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world and dates from around the fifth millennium BC, possibly even earlier, and that it was an independent kingdom in 1800BC, roughly a thousand 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, a saga brought into our homes by television with an almost daily saturation of needless destruction, numbed faces, refugees and orphaned children.

What Badenhorst has portrayed with her series of oil paintings is not the Aleppo of visual media, but of destruction.

An image of a pristine white heron is dominant on every canvas. There are no harrowing faces, no refugees, no devastation or desolation – instead, painterly skills, masterly handled, quietness and order, colour and calm. It is 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 Badenhorst never went there.

She knew of this city on the famed Silk Road to the East. Every traveller for more than a thousand years 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.

Today, the mosque and the market are wastelands, as are the numerous churches, also the ancient Citadel built in the 13th century. Modern weapons of destruction have succeeded where others failed.

Today, most of Aleppo 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.

Badenhorst’s exhibition is a personal tribute to the ancient city and the people.

To all of them, Muslims, Christians . . . her thoughtful and profound statement is beautifully handled.

It is 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.

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. Rina Badenhorst. GFI Art Gallery until May 31. Reviewed by Clayton Holliday.

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