Monif Ajaj

11 December 2013

Born in the city of Deir ez-Zor - located in eastern Syria - in 1967, Syrian artist Monif Ajaj completed his art studies between Belarus and Damascus. He was among the first artists to depict street activism in his paintings in 2011, together with the regime’s brutal reaction to it. Walls covered with graffiti, shabbiha (regime thugs) beating demonstrators, crushing their heads, and laughing at their demands with slogans such as “Fuck your freedom”, are some of the images that can be seen through Ajaj’s work.

Some of his older pieces had not been published until recently, for fear of the repercussions against him and his family, as the artist explained to Syria Untold. One such painting shows the face of the Syrian dictator in a disfigured, grotesque light. 

Bashar al-Assad is present in several of Ajaj’s paintings, both directly and indirectly. One of his pieces depicts “the parted dictators” - Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Ali Saleh, the four of them naked - with a message that reads “Sorry, we thought you were as crazy as we are,” in a clear reference to the dictator missing in the painting.

In 2009, at a time when addressing the issues of prison, detention and torture entailed huge risks, he presented an exhibition in Amman, Jordan, under the title “Moments before mourning”. It included striking depictions of scenes of screaming, torture and humiliation of prisoners, in his very personal style.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising, the artist held an exhibition in Dubai under the name “The Infiltrated”, in reference to the way the Syrian regime used to refer to the opposition to deny the existence of peaceful mobilizations. The paintings depicted the regime's security forces and shabiha (thugs), and portraits of the dictator in a striking grotesque light.

The artist moved to France in 2012, where in his own words, he "dedicates most of his time to supporting Syria and the uprising", through his own art exhibitions and in collaboration with other artists such as Ahmad al-Ali, Walid al-Masri, Tamam Azzam, Walaa Dakkak, and Mohammad Omran.


This work is under a Creative Commons license. Attribution: Non commercial - ShareAlike 4.0. International license

Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad