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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Syrian barber creates portraits on his clients' heads

With a painter's precision, he creates contours and cuts hair to different lengths to give the image depth.

In a city full of hair stylists, Muhannad Khaled Omar stands out.

Mr Omar, 26, is a Palestinian-Syrian stylist known for shaving celebrity portraits into clients' hair.

On a recent Friday at his Beirut salon, he shaved a portrait of U prresident Donald Trump into a young customer's hair. With a painter's precision, he created the contours of the president's face, cutting at various lengths to give the image depth. A spray of gold hair colouring added to the overall effect.

"I started this profession when I was in 9th grade," Mr Omar said. "I was studying at the same time, learning how to cut hair. I've had a talent since I was young, a talent for drawing."

Mr Omar grew up in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, but moved to Lebanon in 2011 after a crackdown against demonstrations in Syria grew violent.

He said his vocation in hair styling is an extension of his passion for art. "I started my baccalaureate studies and I studied psychology. When I came here to Lebanon, I mixed psychology, cutting hair and drawing into one profession," he said.

Hair salons are a focal point in every Middle East city, a place for friends to gather and gossip ahead of the weekends. They are usually segregated by sex.

Mr Omar manages his own salon in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in south Beirut, established in 1948 to accommodate Palestinians who were dispossessed by the creation of the state of Israel. The camp's population has swelled with the influx of Syrian refugees — some of them also Palestinians — who have come to escape the violence of the war next door. According to the United Nations, Lebanon currently hosts a million Syrian refugees.

Syrians are vulnerable to workplace and housing abuses in Lebanon because they lack basic legal protections. Many find it easier to live and work in Palestinian camps.

Mr Omar said he hopes that someone will invest in his work one day and sponsor him to emigrate to Europe.

"I want to start something new, but not in this area, something outside of the Arab world, to show that we are capable, we can produce things," he said.

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