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

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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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App optimized for mobile
App optimized for mobile
© Issa Touma
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.
© Issa Touma
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.
© Issa Touma
© Issa Touma
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
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.
© Issa Touma
© Issa Touma
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.
© Issa Touma
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.
© Issa Touma
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 Touma
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.
© Issa Touma
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.
© Issa Touma

Notes from Aleppo

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. The app is desinged to put the experience through the mobile phone central, while making the web based content available on desktop PCs as well. As a result episodes from these projects can easily be shared with international online media.

Notes from Aleppo has been nominated for Interactive of the Year in the Digital Storytelling Contest at this year’s World Press Photo. The Interactive of the Year award celebrates a production that creates engaging interactive storytelling through skillful editing and design. But it should also show effective synergy of form and content, and deal with a pressing issue.

Zahra Rasool (chair of the jury, head of Contrast VR – Al Jazeera, India) on Notes from Aleppo: “This story is very impactful and so touching. There is no lack of stories from or about Syria and Syrians, but this is from a new angle. We need to keep talking about these important issues and in order to keep the audience listening, we need to find new ways to tell the story. Notes from Aleppo has that new way and is very effective through the way it connects to the viewer and is so deeply personal.”

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  1. Notes from Aleppo

    Launch and debate

    22 Oct 2018 Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam

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    Launch and debate 22 Oct 2018 Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam

    On Monday October 22, Paradox launches Notes From Aleppo, a new multimedia project by Syrian photographer Issa Touma. During this event, the app will be presented and various artists, journalists and scholars will discuss the current situation in Aleppo. Speakers include Issa Touma, Paul Aarts (Senior Lecturer Political Science, University of Amsterdam), Huib de Zeeuw (freelance...

  2. Notes from Aleppo

    Issa Touma guest at Cinema Stadsleven

    29 Apr 2019 Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam

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    Issa Touma guest at Cinema Stadsleven 29 Apr 2019 Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam

    Issa Touma will talk about Notes from Aleppo with writer Abdelkader Benali on the talkshow Cinema Stadsleven, hosted by Tracy Metz in connection to the extensive programme Shell Shock in EYE (Filmmuseum Amsterdam) on April 30. The Shell Shock film programme afterwards will be dedicated to Issa Touma entirely.  Both 9 Days – From My...

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