Global perception of the Syrian war has been dominated by a mass-proliferation of media images. While these images became emblematic of the brutal ruination of a country and its people, their failure to provoke collective mobilisation on an international level generated new and bitter reckonings with the ethics of war’s visual representation; its impact (or lack thereof) on public action; the fetishization and commodification of violence; and the overall relation between truth, image and politics.
My paper contributes to this debate by addressing one of the last “iconic” photographs that emerged from war-raged Aleppo in March 2017, shortly after the city was re-taken by the Syrian regime. Captioned as The Music over the Ruins of Aleppo and praised by global media outlets as “counterimage” to previous depictions of violence, the photograph depicted an elderly man who, sitting in his war-ravaged bedroom, appeared immersed in the sounds of an old gramophone.
Animated by the works of Susan Sontag, Judith Butler and Ariella Azoulay, this paper proposes a prolonged mode of looking, one that is sceptical of the universal claims that underpin our belief in the iconic power of images. By filling the image with the songs, stories, and personal histories of some of Aleppo’s displaced residents, it aims to provide a locally and historically contextualised understanding of what it may mean to listen to music in and from Aleppo, during and after war.