I like to think that I am a man who has a message to spread around the world. My voice in turn carries those of suffering men, women and children whose living situations are so difficult or inhumane and whose suffering is so extreme, that they are left unable to express themselves. This inability is also sometimes compounded by a limited education.

During my life, be it in Syria or in Turkey, I have come across many people on the streets. I have always paid special attention to faces and to the ways in which emotions are expressed through faces, through eyes, and even through lips. Facial expressions convey the emotions that are trapped inside. I cannot say what suffering is being expressed through them — but I can recognize suffering and the paralysis that it can provoke.

These people were not all refugees. Among them were the homeless, the lonely and old, the abandoned children.

I myself feel „voiceless“. My precarious status as an asylum seeker in Switzerland does not allow me to travel abroad. I am expected to work in jobs for which I am not trained, and for which I feel ill suited. I wish I could change this reality, but I cannot. I feel trapped in a big prison: when you are devoid of a voice, you feel like a prisoner. The inability to change one’s reality or to follow one’s dreams can sometimes silence a person.

Many Syrians, but more broadly all refugees, need to express how much they have suffered. They need to express what they saw and felt in their country of origin, during the journey to the country of their dreams, or in the country where they have to rebuild their lives. They need to express how vulnerable and devoid or protection they feel. Not all of them get this opportunity.

This project is for me a way to give them / us a voice. I paint faces to restore the emotions that I detected, to externalize that person’s suffering. I like to think that by contemplating my work, the viewer, by contemplating my works, will be touched, will react, that he will better understand the suffering of the Other. That maybe, it will even affect his life, his way to behave, to relate to others. Let emanate a form of harmony, of empathy.

We are all human beings.
We all have emotions, whether or not we are refugees.
For me, art is a way to change the world.
It is a way to change one’s outlook on one’s own life, environment and social interactions.
For me, to paint is to carry voices – mine and those of others.

* * * * * * * * *

“Salam paints.
He paints on canvas, on paper, on whatever materials he finds if proper ones are lacking.
He paints in a multitude of colours but sometimes – increasingly — he tends towards a darker pallette.

Salam paints what he is unable to put into words: he paints the horrors he lived before reaching Switzerland, and he paints the anxiety of an uncertain future, his own, his family’s, and especially his children’s.

Salam paints memories of his native Syria. He paints his lost friendships, his decimated family, his chaotic world. He paints his revolt, his helplessness, his disarray.

Salam’s is a voice among the voiceless; a voice for those who have been forever silenced by life and by so many reasons.

Born a half century ago in Syria, Salam Ahmad has abandoned everything to keep his family safe: he left behind his position as a philosophy professor and his job as an art restorer, and arrived in Switzerland full of hope — a hope that he finds fading as time goes by, because his living conditions are so difficult.

This project was born of a mad desire. We hope to weave a thread around the world to give, through the portraits on display, a voice to the voiceless. Through them, we wish to encourage dialogue, reflection, awareness, and solidarity.”

Galerie Cathédrale, Fribourg (Switzerland)


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