Hayat Ibrahim al-Sidawi is 64 and arrived in Malmö last July. She tells The Local Voices how embroidery helped her to cope with the war, and why she had to bring her children to Sweden.
The war prevented us all from continuing our lives normally. It seemed like an endless tunnel of darkness, and being stuck at home unable to do anything was unbearable.
I couldn’t recognize my country anymore – it had become distorted, and it was very hard to acknowledge that this was my homeland.
My life in Syria was concretely organized; working and devoting all my time to raise my children properly - I was totally responsible for them after my husband and I divorced 30 years ago. I gave them everything they needed.
I couldn’t carry on just waiting and doing nothing. So I started to work at home doing embroidery; It felt better to spend the horrifying times creating artistic garments. I wasn’t doing it to make a living, embroidery helped me engage my senses and distract my emotions from horror and sadness.
I mainly used satin; it’s hard to tame, but gives the best artistic outcome. I applied satin to portraits as if I were drawing. I work directly on a fabric-covered-board, without lining or painting it beforehand.
Once I'd finally decided to leave Syria with my children, I started saving up the artworks so I could take them with me when I left the country. I wanted to show people that these works were created in times of war and horror. And to show them that human beings should never stop learning and working; otherwise life would be meaningless.
My children didn’t want to leave Syria, so I had to persuade them it was necessary. In Syria, the chance of death is present at every moment, and I didn’t want to see my two children die before my eyes. No mum could accept that.
What mattered to me was giving the opportunity to my children, who are in their 20's and 30's, to continue their lives. They are still young. If I hadn't brought them to Sweden I would have always felt guilty – I’d have felt like I killed my children with my own hands.
The journey to Europe wasn’t easy, I have many problems with my back and I was in a lot of pain, but I had to raise my children’s spirits.
Now we consider Sweden our home as well as Syria, because we have no other place.
Sweden is very beautiful. I can feel that I am living in a really democratic society. Everyone lives the way they want to with respect, and I can see people accepting each other despite their differences.
At Easter there will be a festival where many artists will show their work, and I am preparing to participate. I am working on these embroidery-garment-portraits, which I hope will evoke the right impressions from the viewers: I want people to understand that within all our destruction, we can present beauty and creation.
I feel better in Sweden, I can think and create better here. Having my children safe next to me brings peace to my heart.
When I work, I get reminiscent vistas of my lifetime, and all the things that I have been through. I always enjoy having the pleasant memories crossing my mind and soul; and I abandon the tragic and sad ones.
To old and young people, I say: life is beautiful, be happy, full of hope, and always give. Tomorrow might be more beautiful.