The Aesthetic and Expressive Qualities of Violence Through Painting

  • Nour Zantah

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Historically, violence has been a common subject matter in painting, with many painters being fascinated by the opportunity to explore the issues provoked by representations of war and violence. One of the most devastating and long-running wars of the past fifty years has been the Syrian Civil War, whether measured in terms of fatalities, displaced peoples or economic costs. Unsurprisingly, this war has provoked an artistic reaction among Syrian painters, especially those who have emigrated to safe countries. There is currently a lack of research on the practices of Syrian artists working in the context of the ongoing Syrian war. This research, therefore, aimed to consider both my own personal approach as a Syrian artist reflecting on the war, and the approach of other artists whose practices are relevant to this practice-based Ph.D. A primary area of focus was a consideration of the techniques of Syrian artists and the imagery that they select and work with. The research sought to explore the aesthetics and expressive qualities achieved by artists who produce paintings that address the subject of violence and war. This study also sought to elucidate and explore the impact of mobile-phone images in my paintings and the paintings of the diaspora of young Syrian artists, in the latter case through face-to-face and Facebook Messenger interviews with selected painters. In addition, it engaged with the personal suffering of war and its relationship to the how this is expressed, especially through the selection of images to work on through the medium of painting. Through interrogating the approaches of Syrian émigré artists’ paintings, as well as reflecting on my own practice through the course of this study and my personal war experience, the thesis reveals the relationships between images of violence and the representations in paintings. The results indicate that images of war have a significant impact on the diaspora of young Syrian painters, reigniting memories, personal experiences and suffering, and that this feeds through into their paintings. Furthermore, the research findings show the extent to which the artists are affected by ‘images’ and the environments in which they are now living play a role in their ability to express their true and deepest feelings on the subject of war and violence. Looking beyond this specific work, further research is necessary to explore the impact of the ‘spoken and transmitted words’ and ‘sounds’ – in regards to the Syrian conflict – on the paintings of Syrian émigré painters.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorCraig Staff (Supervisor) & Michael Evans (Supervisor)


  • violence
  • war
  • Syria
  • painting

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