Amal al-Attar, looks at her artworks on display during an exhibition. Delil Souleiman/AFP
More than a year after the militant group fled, Syrian boys and girls are finally back on stage — bobbing to the rhythm of drums in the northern city of Raqa.
At the first cultural centre to open since the militant’s draconian rule ended, sunlight floods into the brand new library, while books line shelves along a wall that still smells of wet paint.
But it's taken a bit of time to resuscitate cultural life.
"I can't describe how happy I am," said Fawzia al-Sheikh at the centre's opening earlier this month, in the still largely devastated city.
"I feel like a bird sweeping through the spring sky,
In the Raqa Centre for Arts and Culture's brightly lit gallery, paintings hang beside charcoal drawings, near sculptures of human figures.
In the concert hall, Malak al-Yatim stepped off stage after performing — exhilarated to finally be able to sing in public again.
"I feel like a bird sweeping through the spring sky," he said.
"We were like nightingales in a cage," he lamented.
"If we did anything, they'd chop off our head or whip us."
Books saved from the ruins
The city had more than 20 cultural centres, the largest housing 60,000 books.
But the extremists forced all these facilities to close, burning and destroying books and paintings.
"These books you can see — we saved them from the ruins," said Ziad al-Hamad, the centre's director.
"When the city was liberated, they gave them back to us," added Hamad, who also sits on the city council's culture and antiquities commission.
In the cultural centre's gallery, painter Amal al-Attar has work on display after returning from exile in Beirut.
Among her works is a painting of a white boat adrift on an ocean, and another of a home on the shoreline.
"It's like a re-birth," the 37-year-old said of the centre's opening, sunglasses perched atop her dark shoulder-length hair.
Attar used to run a studio for artists, but when daesh overran the city they told her art was forbidden.
She left 50 works behind when she fled to neighbouring Lebanon.
"I can't forget what happened back then, but this cultural centre will give us a new drive," she said.
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