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Artist Statement

My work is driven by my experiences as a Syrian refugee now living in Edinburgh. It is infused with the pain of my past ordeals – suffering beatings in military prison, witnessing the systematic suppression of my Kurdish identity, leaving my home country as a refugee – yet it is also energised by my deep cultural connections and my love of freedom and of family.  I use distorted shapes and writhing lines to express the struggles of a captive creature seeking to burst its bonds. 


I am inspired by my readings in literature, philosophy, and theory, and many of my deeply psychological compositions can be read as allegorical self-portraits. Central to my work are thematic explorations of the endurance of man amidst the power struggles of good and evil—an existentialist question that has engrossed me for some time. My paintings are rich in symbols woven into intricate narratives and I employ rich visual imagery that ranges from monstrous creatures and mythical demons to still lives and botanical elements that stand for anti-heroes, outcasts and rebels. I have been influenced by the work of artists such as Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti.


My latest series of work ‘The Threat’ reflects the constant darkness that I live with in my mind. I have used darkness to obscure and to draw the viewer close to my canvases to seek out the colour lying beneath the surface of the evocative images, in order to give the experience of one who is in a darkened room and can only slowly begin to see colour and form emerge.



Born in Aleppo in 1972, Nihad Al Turk is a Kurdish Syrian artist who left Syria in the midst of the current civil war and now lives and works in Edinburgh. Growing up in poverty, he learnt to paint against all odds. When his mother told him there was no money for bread, he redoubled his efforts to become a successful artist.  In 1994, his dedication to exhibiting his work led to a clash with the Syrian authorities: he was imprisoned in Palmyra military prison as punishment for missing compulsory army service.


By the late 1990s his work had gathered critical acclaim in Syria. He won the coveted Golden Prize at the (Fifth) Latakia Biennale in 2003 – in competition with artists from 12 countries including Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Oman, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon and Kuwait. His reputation as a significant Syrian artist grew through an eight-year relationship with the prestigious Ayyam Gallery.


The violence and chaos since the 2011 uprising have led to huge personal upheaval for Syrian Kurdish families like the Al Turks. His siblings have been scattered across the globe and Nihad and his wife sought refuge in Beirut in 2013 before coming to Edinburgh in late 2015. Since arriving in Edinburgh, Nihad has been artist in residence at Leith School of Art (2016), exhibited work in solo and group exhibitions, and created large scale murals including ‘Innocents on the Floodtide’ for St John’s Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh (2016) and the 72-metre-long work ‘A New Vision of Edinburgh’ in St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh (2019). Nihad is currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at Craigmillar Now arts centre.

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