Installation detail, Koblenz, 2020.

Design of Necessity

2022, Site-specific participatory art project and exhibition at Maria Church, Copenhagen

Highlighting humans’ resilience in conflict, the exhibition takes inspiration from stories of Syrians’ survival under siege and starvation, a collective act that forged networks of solidarity and compassion. Syrian activists and refugees in Denmark join Barakeh in the artistic process to express their stories and experiences. Click here to read the full press release.

This project used Relational Art as a methodology, which is “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space,” as highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud, “where the artist viewed as the catalyst rather than being at the center.”

Participatory Workshop

Design of Necessity began in a five-day workshop in May 2022, which brought Barakeh and the twelve Syrian asylum seekers and activists together to share their stories of survival and resilience. They broke mirrors into shards, which they then fixed to the inside of satellite dishes. This reproduced a technique Syrians developed under sieges to harness the sun’s rays in the absence of fuel and electricity. This is how Syrians heated scarce water and food, notably mushrooms, to survive.

Design of Necessity artwork made with the participation of Amer Kazkaz, Dima Sada, Fadia Alokla, Ghazal Shemi, Haya Termanini, Joudi Obaide, Lojain Ajek, Ola Ajek, Rami Mahouk, Tarek Kelani, Yasser Omar, Yousef Fares.

Physical Presence

2022, mixed material, 800x140x140 cm

In Design of Necessity, this practice also brought siege survivors into the process of making art. The satellite dishes were arranged, with cooking pots hanging onto them, on a tower that stands outside the Mariakirken.

As they moved from the tower outside the church to inside the interior, churchgoers and other visitors physically passed through a curtain on which was printed a photograph of Yarmouk camp in Damascus. Yarmouk was under a brutal siege from 2013-2015 when it was described as the worst place on earth. The photograph shows a mass of people waiting for food, providing a visual reminder to all who enter the church of the scale and atrocity of Syrians’ suffering and will to survive under siege.

On the other side of the curtain is a photo taken by a mobile phone of a Syrian citizen named Abou al-Hassan al-Andalusi. The photo was taken in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus suburb. If they had no cellars to hide in, people in Douma were forced to dig caves themselves as a refuge against the bombings. Given the lack of space, it was reserved mainly for children, old, and injured people. People who do not have the possibility to flee often dug these holes to have more chances of survival.

Shattered Image of Oneself

2022, digital prints on fabric, 200x140 cm

Additionally, the workshop’s participants each took a self-portrait using their reflections in the shattered, recomposed mirrors on the satellite dishes, which were hung inside the church for the exhibition taking over the space for the summer of 2022. These portraits communicate the shattered images of selves and communities that Syrians carry after years of political repression, siege, starvation, forced disappearance, and forced displacement. The photographs also serve as a reminder that Western media rarely, if ever, represent Syrians as a complete image: either victims or threats, Syrians are not permitted to appear as full, complex human beings.

Rooted Communities

2022, mushroom bags, various sizes

Imitating how the Syrians were farming mushrooms while living under the ground, small stacks of growing mushrooms were placed throughout the church, lacing the air with the scent of fungi. This smell echoed the physical presence of the satellite “cookers” hung on the tower outside.

Images of the Image-Makers

Syrian-Kurdish photographer, producer, and filmmaker, Guevara Namer, was invited to co-curate an exhibition section dedicated to photographers who experienced the sieges. Rather than asking them to provide documentation, the curators asked these image-makers to turn the camera’s eye back on themselves as they experienced the siege themselves.

Each photographer was asked to select one photograph that, for them, exemplified their experience of the siege they survived along with a short, evocative paragraph to accompany the displayed photographs. These images and their stories were placed on the pews around the church as testimonies of the sieges. They were also provided as postcards for people to take home with them as a memento of Design of Necessity.

Photographers are:

  • Abd Doumany — Siege of Douma, Jan 2013 - Mar 2018
  • Ameer Al Halbi — Siege of Aleppo, Mar 2016 - Dec 2016
  • Aref Tammawi — Siege of Aleppo, Mar 2016 - Dec 2016
  • Bassam Al Hakeem — Siege of Douma, Jan 2018 - Mar 2018
  • Bassel Tl — Siege of Homs, Jun 2012 - May 2014
  • Diya Khattab — Siege of Homs, Jun 2012 - May 2014
  • Moayad Zaghmout — Siege of Yarmouk Camp, Jul 2013 - Mar 2014
  • Mohammed Badra — Siege of Douma, Jan 2013 - Mar 2018
  • Mohammed Abdullah — Siege of Eastern Ghouta, Dec 2012 - Aug 2014
  • Mouhamad Abo Kasem — Siege of South Damascus, Jul 2013 - Mar 2014
  • Rami Muhammad Mahouk — Siege of Yarmouk, Jul 2013 - Mar 2014
  • Wissam Khattab Shahleh — Siege of South Damascus Camp, Jul 2013 - Mar 2014

Narratives of Prison and Siege

The exhibition came to include the image of a doll made by a female prison survivor, who narrates her experience through this doll in response to the social stigmatization experienced by Syrian women who survive detention and sexual assault.

Another set of connective fibers brought Berlin and Copenhagen into dialogue with Idlib, a former rebel stronghold that Doctors Without Borders described in 2020 as an “open-air prison.” This axis of Design of Necessity explored the ties between imprisonment in Syria and siege: two weapons of war that the regime has used to torture, terrorize, and control its population. In cooperation with researcher Anne-Marie McManus and Syrian prison researcher and novelist Jaber Baker, the opening event of Design of Necessity featured readings from prison literature past and present. These readings attested to the wide reach of imprisonment and forced disappearance in Syria today.

McManus and Bakr selected one voice from each generation. From the 1980s generation, they selected poetry by Faraj Bayrakdar, who was arrested by the Syrian state in 1987 for his involvement in the Syrian Communist Action Party. Bayrakdar was held incommunicado and tortured for fourteen years.  Syrian activists, Haya Termanini & Noura Bittar Søborg, read Bayrakdar's poetry in both English and Arabic.

Film Program

In the framework of the exhibition, and incooperation with Cinemateket and Syrian Doc Days, three internationally awarded films that centered around the project’s subject were screened:

  • For Sama—by Waad Alkateab (100 min, Danish subtitle)
  • Little Palestine—diary of a siege, by Abdallah Al-Khatib (89 min, Danish subtitle)
  • FLEE—by Jonas Poher Rasmussen (90 min, Danish subtitle). The film introduced by Salwa Barlian, the Senior Legal Adviser from the Danish Refugee Council’s Asylum Department

After the Last Supper

2022, situational performance

“After the Last Supper” was the culminating moment of the Design of Necessity project. It hosted a series of conversations over a dinner that brought together academics, journalists, NGO leaders, politicians, activists and artists around a simple and symbolic meal, which was made out of the mushroom the was farmed inside the church during the period of the project, to share memories and stories; to practice solidarity and understanding; to open channels for those interested in the Syrian matter, to honor resilience in the name of justice for all people suffering siege and starvation.

On the 28th of August, Design of Necessity hosted the graduation event of DFUNK, a local association that helps who have fled to Denmark live a safe and stable youth life with equal rights, focusing on young people.

Design of Necessity is realized with support from Studio Khaled Barakeh, PAX, with great assistance from FX Team - Special effects and production support for Europe, DanChurchAid, Danish Film Institute, Art Week CPH, and through a residency at FABRIKKEN for Kunst og Design. After the Last Supper event was supported by the Danish Institute in Damascus


The Maria Projektet curated by Matthias Borello and developed in collaboration with Lise Christina Rasmussen, pastor of Mariakirken Vesterbro. The project is generously supported by the Danish Arts Foundation, the Bikuben Foundation, the Augustinus Foundation, the Engineer Captain Aage Nielsen Family Fund, the Diocese of Copenhagen (Social Ethics Committee), the Innovative Diaconal Fund, the City of Copenhagen, and the Vesterbro Local Committee, among others, and will run until autumn 2023.

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