In Rome Gallery: The Syrian 500 Banknote and The Pomegranate – A Street Painter’s Tale

The Dubai-based Syrian street artist discusses painting on a devalued Syrian banknote, a work recently showcased at Rome’s Rosso20sette gallery.

My earliest memory of the 500 (Syrian pounds) banknote is when my mom trusted me with it to go to a shop to buy a few things, which made me feel proud.

I remember coming back with multiple bags of stuff, like pomegranates and vegetables. It’s an iconic banknote. If someone gave you a 500, they were spoiling you — it was a treasure. Now, 500 pounds won’t get you anything. I don’t think you could even buy one pomegranate with it.

The Rosso20sette gallery contacted me to participate in its group exhibition, “Money Go Round,” in which each artist painted any banknote. As a street artist, it was actually a challenging piece for me. I used a really tiny brush with normal acrylic and acrylic markers; it’s the smallest piece I’ve ever done in my life.*9-

Of course, I chose Syrian money. I didn’t have any on me, but my dad was visiting Syria and he brought me some old notes.

I painted the 500 and the pomegranate — which was already on the note — because I have that personal relationship with it. I felt like the splash of color almost revived the banknote. It also reflects good memories — the nostalgia that I feel for that note. Growing up in Syria, there was a lot of vibrancy, contrast and greenery. We have a beautiful culture; it’s very colorful and I think that is reflected in the banknote. I was also looking into the relationship between people and money in this piece.

I’ve always been inspired by Andy Warhol and the Pop Art movement in general. It was not something I was exposed to in Syria. I was so drawn to it and started using primary colors, which is mostly used in pop art. It gets people’s attention and turns heads. I just like its sense of humor and how shocking it is — it can visually deliver any message in a better way.

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