Syrian painter challenges Lithuania's fear of refugees
Fleeing war-torn Syria, painter Majd Kara found himself in Lithuania where half the population says they refuse to help asylum-seekers. Now holding his second exhibition, Kara is changing the country's attitude. By Karolis Vysniauskas
A new home: until this year, Majd Kara had never been to Vilnius. Now the capital of Lithuania has become the Syrian painter's home and he has even found a temporary studio close to the city centre. "But I will have to give the keys back. The studio has no heating, so during the last months of autumn I was painting with frozen hands. But I will find some new place. I will continue painting," he says
Exhibition opening: the UNESCO gallery was packed at the opening of Majd Kara's exhibition. Since his arrival in Lithuania, the painter has received a lot of recognition and given dozens of interviews to local media. "I am very lucky to get so much attention for my works. I couldn't expect this in Syria. In the current situation, perspectives for artists in Syria are very bleak"
Exploring human transformation: in his new exhibition, Kara explores the issue of radical change. "Each of the 12 paintings is a separate window into the laboratory of spiritual transformation of a human being," says the painter. After the war broke out in Syria, he needed to start his life anew after 29 years in Syria, where he had finished his art studies and worked as a graphic designer
A painter from the start: Kara started to paint when he was just five years old. He grew up in Homs, one of the largest cities in Syria. "My mom gave me a pen. Not a book to read, but a pen to write or to draw. So I drew. I also tried to write poetry and essays, but I felt that I cannot reach enough people. I didn't seek fame; I just wanted to deliver my ideas. Painting was the best way to do that"
Escaped together: the painter escaped from Syria together with girlfriend Farah Mohammed (pictured left). First, they spent six months in Turkey. To reach the EU, the couple took a lifeboat to Greece and were later sent to Lithuania. Now they feel safe. Mohammed has found a job at Western Union in Vilnius; Kara continues to paint and is looking for a job in Vilnius
'I'm not religious at all': when exploring the idea of rebirth, Kara didn't shy away from religious images. "I'm not religious at all," he says when asked about the painting showing a naked pregnant woman on the cross. "I was. But now I am not." Kara was baptised as a Christian, but he doesn't practice his religion. This contradicts the common fear in Lithuania of associating asylum-seekers with religious extremism
'There's nothing stronger than the dark': as a painter, Kara has always been interested in experiencing the darker side of things. "Life and death are next to each other. You cannot appreciate life without death, you cannot enjoy happiness without knowing what it's like to suffer," Kara explains his philosophy. He was always seeking to find a strong idea behind his art. "And I realised that there is nothing stronger than the dark"
Creating his own unique style: "I like surrealism and expressionism," Kara explains his paintings' modern aesthetic. But his inspirations come from different eras of art. Among the painters whose works he admires are Amedeo Modigliani, Francisco Goya, Salvador Daliand Raphael. However, the 30-year-old artist aims to create his own unique style of painting instead of replicating others