Syrian refugee donates paintings in aid of Edinburgh art school

He was one of the first Syrians to arrive in Scotland in 2015 as refugees fled the war-torn country.

Artist Nihad al Turk gives paintings to Leith School of Art charity auction.
Artist Nihad al Turk gives paintings to Leith School of Art charity auction.

Now an artist who has carved out a career in Edinburgh since fleeing Aleppo is to donate some of his work to a charity auction.

Three paintings by Nihad Al Turk will be part of a benefit at the Lyon & Turnbull auction house in the city’s New Town on Friday night.

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He has agreed to donate them to the sale, all proceeds from which will go towards Leith School of Art, as a “thank you” for the welcome he has had since he arrived in the city with his wife Sawsan and their young daughter, Sara.

The 45-year-old, who was offered studio space at the art school shortly after arriving in Edinburgh, has also revealed plans to create a 75-metre long mural of his adopted city.

His paintings will be going under the hammer alongside work donated by leading Scottish artists like Toby Paterson and Calum Innes.

More than 3,000 students attend classes every week at Leith School of Art, which was set up in 1988 by two art teachers in an old Norwegian church to provide an alternative to the major art institutions.

Al Turk, who has previously served time in a military jail for his opposition to the Syrian regime. is an award-winning artist who has staged exhibitions in Damascus, Beirut and Dubai, and has also had his work shown in New York.

However, all of his previous work was lost when he was forced to uproot his family from Syria for their own safety. They fled from Aleppo to Beirut before eventually being brought to safety in Edinburgh.

His work, which is influenced by literature and philosophy, is described as multi-layered compositions which explore “the endurance of man amidst the power struggles of good and evil”.

Al Turk, who taught himself to paint,s said: “I worked hard for many years to build my career as an artist at home. But the war meant all that was lost and it became too dangerous to stay there.

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“But I am determined not to surrender. I managed to bring some art materials with me to Scotland and within four days I started work again. My aim now is to start all over again and build my reputation in this new country that has been so kind to us.

“We have been made so welcome in Edinburgh, and the support I have had from Leith School of Art has been wonderful. I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to everyone, and the best way I can do that is through my art.”

Phil Archer, principal of Leith School of Art, said: “The generosity of all the artists contributing to the auction has been tremendous.

“It is particularly inspiring that Nihad, who arrived with almost nothing, is helping support our charitable work. We were introduced when he first arrived in 2015 and I have been impressed by his talent and determination to build his career in a new land thousands of miles from the home he was forced to flee.

“The auction will raise funds to support the school’s central aim to create a nurturing, supportive art school community with a strong tradition of passionate and quality teaching.”