DAMASCUS (Reuters) - A group of Syrian artists in Damascus has created the world's biggest mural made of recycled materials, a rare work aimed at brightening public space in a city sapped by war and sanctions.
The brightly coloured, 720-sq metre work was constructed from aluminum cans, broken mirrors, bicycle wheels and other scrap objects and displayed on a street outside a primary school in the center of the Syrian capital.
The mural's lead artist, Syrian artist Moaffak Makhoul, said the idea behind the project was to give ordinary people a chance to experience art and relieve some of the pressures of daily life as the country's three-year-old conflict grinds on.
"In the difficult conditions that the country is going through, we wanted to give a smile to the people, joy to the children, and show people that the Syrian people love life, love beauty, love creativity," he said.
Guinness World Records has declared the work the world's largest mural made of recycled materials.
Syria is sunk in a civil war that has killed over 140,000 people, forced millions more to flee their homes and devastated much of the country's infrastructure, economic activity and urban life.
Central Damascus has been relatively shielded from the worst fighting, although a little over a year ago rebels controlled a ring of suburbs and were launching incursions that threatened government control over parts of the city center.
Gains over the past few months by President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Damascus' outskirts and along the nearby Lebanese border have strengthened the government's grip on the capital.
Makhoul said he saw the mural as a fitting project for the times because it could help ease the frustrations of normal people. "I found it to be the most appropriate time for this. Now is when we need to do something," he said.
"I've been sad to see a lot of my colleagues, artists, all traveling abroad and leaving. God be with them and give them luck - but the country also needs all of us."
The mural took about six months to complete and was finished in January with the help of about six artists.
Students at the school nearby said they were happy with the completed work. "It's really great - it's made me more excited to come to school," said one student, Shams Khidir.
Mohamed, another passerby, said he had watched the project develop from its beginning while passing by the wall.
"It's really great work. It made me feel we can benefit a lot from things we aren't using," he said.
(Reporting by Kinda Makieh; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Tom Heneghan)