Updated on December 19, 2016 with a few new images….
His name is Omran. Omran Daqneesh. A real little boy, who had been living a real little boy’s life, before he wound up covered in blood in the back of an ambulance, in a photo that surely everyone has seen by now. So that is who he is, a real little 5 year old boy, and that’s his name. But I’m calling this piece Aleppo Boy because this little bleeding child is every child in Syria. They are all being bombed. They are all having their childhoods torn away, victims of a war we’re all complicit in. And in case anyone does not already know this, Omran’s brother, another little innocent child of Aleppo, died in this attack.
This piece troubles me to paint. It troubles me because it hurts a lot to look into this little boy’s stunned pain; because I feel a little like I’m appropriating that pain for the sake of art and I’m not sure whether or not that’s right, but I’m an artist and so God help me, I can do no other. It troubles me because I’m a mother and, as all mothers know, once we’ve given birth, all babies become our babies, we see our own in all of them. And this painting is troubling me because I feel like I really owe something to it, in order to touch such a touching thing. The thing is, it’s obviously based on the already very iconic photograph taken by Mahmoud Raslan, and that photograph itself said everything it needed to say regarding the concrete, visual details of that moment. And so photo realism is not an option here for my rendering of this, else why bother? Mahmoud Raslan, who lives in the same neighborhood where this little boy was bombed, had to stand there looking into that ambulance – eyes and heart and camera unshielded to any of this; every excrutiating detail pouring into them, and he told this story courageously well in that photograph. What can I possibly add to that?
I don’t know what to do with this. Only that a world with shit like this in it cries for some kind of …well what is it that we do with our art. We swallow it up and digest it all and make it part of us (or are poisoned by it), and then shit it out into the ether in some new form so we can feel some kind of (at least temporary) relief. Or whatever. I don’t know. Just…I keep trying to figure out how I could ever find the pathway through my being for the expression of this… this what… this thing that still cries to be expressed about this little boy, about what happened to him, what’s happening to so many other children like him? How can I possibly touch this subject as much as he has touched me. This is the question with which I’m wrestling, as I struggle over study after study of this little boy. So far, I’m feeling like the “unfinishedness” of the painting above gets closest to what I’m wanting to say. The shapes of pain are exaggerated, and thus probably more truthful, in the unfinished eyes – and the unfinishedness of the painting/life/meaning of it all, well they all seem to mirror each other in some way. The version below, though closer in detail to the original image, seems to hold less of the Truth that I’m trying to find with this. Too close to the original photograph, without adding anything to it. And so, the struggle continues, this path to figure out what this piece is crying to me to say.
When found and finished, this will be part of an exhibition called “Collateral Damage,” exploring the ways in which the enormous costs of greed, hatred, and indifference are externalized onto innocent victims, whom we would usually rather look away from and pretend do not exist. It is my belief that, in the face of unnecessary suffering like this, the very least we must do is to bear witness. And in bearing witness, we must allow our hearts, then our courage, and then our bodies to do more.