In 2012, photographer Issa Touma was forced to leave his home in Aleppo. Reluctant to abandon his country, family and friends, he travelled back and forth several times until East Aleppo was taken back by the regime (SAA) in December 2016.

Notes from Aleppo shows the residents’ painstaking efforts to restore normality in daily life. In a number of short stories, Issa meets up with friends and neighbours, with those who are returning and with those who never left, and he uncovers who are really behind the reconstruction of Aleppo; not the regime, not the Russians, not Europe or the US, let alone the Gulf. In fact, the rebuilding of the city largely comes down to the citizens themselves. Their stories reveal another side of Aleppo, one that has gone unnoticed by international media until now.

Before the war an estimated 22.5 million people lived in Syria including 2.1 million in Aleppo, making it the country’s largest city. Since 2011 over 5.6 million people have become refugees and another 6.6 million are internally displaced. In early 2017 people started returning to their homes in Aleppo. A year later the number of returnees rose to 444,500.

The project offers a subjective take on the ongoing conflict in Syria, and it explores what it means to live in a war-torn city and a society in need of complete rebuilding.

Notes from Aleppo is a free web app, supported by the Mondriaan Fund, Creative Industries Fund NL and Nederlands Filmfonds and based on the multimedia storytelling platform Slices. Every month a new episode will be released.

Notes from Aleppo is the follow-up to the short movies 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo (2015), winner of the European Short Film Award at the European Film Festival 2016, and Greetings from Aleppo (2016), winner of a DIG and DIRECTORSNL awards.

For more information, visit www.notesfromaleppo.today

Authors

Issa Touma is a photographer and curator based in Aleppo (Syria). His photographic work can be found in international collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Finding himself isolated from the international art community in his own country, Touma established the Black and White Gallery, the first photography gallery in the Middle East, in 1992. After its closure in 1996, Touma founded Le Pont, an independent art organisation and gallery that promotes freedom of expression and stimulates the local art scene through international events.

In 1997, he started the International Photography Festival Aleppo, which despite the horrors and uncertainties of the conflict, continues to take place every year. In 2012, shortly after the war broke out, he initiated Art Camping. This event in the form of workshops counters violence with artistic interventions. Its aim is to bring young people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds together, encouraging them to express themselves through culture.

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Notes from Aleppo screenshot
Notes from Aleppo screenshot
Arkoub district, after entering Aleppo from Castello Road, the last route access to the city during the conflict.
Arkoub district, after entering Aleppo from Castello Road, the last route access to the city during the conflict.
View from Issa Touma’s apartment on the third floor in the Ancient part of Aleppo. At the distance the historic Citadel.
View from Issa Touma’s apartment on the third floor in the Ancient part of Aleppo. At the distance the historic Citadel.
Touma found remaining of his library and archive on the floors of every room in his apartment. These are the only three photos left from Touma’s large collection of hand coloured black and white photographs made by and Armenian photographer.
Touma found remaining of his library and archive on the floors of every room in his apartment. These are the only three photos left from Touma’s large collection of hand coloured black and white photographs made by and Armenian photographer.
Issa Touma with members of Art Camping in the quest of finding the childhood home of one of them. The streets were so unrecognizable that it took them days to find it.
Issa Touma with members of Art Camping in the quest of finding the childhood home of one of them. The streets were so unrecognizable that it took them days to find it.
Walid Hinjo (left) his house was entirely destroyed with the exception of the basement. He conditioned it as temporary home while he rebuilds his house with the money from his retirement.
Walid Hinjo (left) his house was entirely destroyed with the exception of the basement. He conditioned it as temporary home while he rebuilds his house with the money from his retirement.
Even with limited resources, small businesses cleaned their shops and started giving service to Aleppians as of beginning of 2017.
Even with limited resources, small businesses cleaned their shops and started giving service to Aleppians as of beginning of 2017.
When Armen died, two years after marrying Roubina in 2016, she became the keeper of the hotel. The hotel is property of Armen’s sisters, but none of them wants to come back.
When Armen died, two years after marrying Roubina in 2016, she became the keeper of the hotel. The hotel is property of Armen’s sisters, but none of them wants to come back.
Issa in the entrance of his building. On the back the frontline where the civil war reached Aleppo’s street under Touma’s window.
Issa in the entrance of his building. On the back the frontline where the civil war reached Aleppo’s street under Touma’s window.
In 2012, Robert Sulahian and his family traveled for a one week wedding in Lebanon. When they tried to come back to Aleppo the war had broken in and they couldn’t return. Their Filipino housemaid Anita, was left by herself in the apartment in the middle of a crossfire. At the Sulahian’s return in 2017, Anita welcomed them with a poster she made.
In 2012, Robert Sulahian and his family traveled for a one week wedding in Lebanon. When they tried to come back to Aleppo the war had broken in and they couldn’t return. Their Filipino housemaid Anita, was left by herself in the apartment in the middle of a crossfire. At the Sulahian’s return in 2017, Anita welcomed them with a poster she made.

Notes from Aleppo web app

Notes from Aleppo is a free web app, based on the multimedia storytelling platform Slices, optimized for mobile devices. In 8 online episodes, Touma follows Aleppo’s residents in their efforts to restore daily life in a war-torn city.

  • Issa Touma (Concept and photography)
    Lys Romero (Story editing)
    Slices (Graphic design, interactive concept and programming)
    Bas Vroege (Editor)
    Thomas Vroege (Video editing)

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