Create Syria: London exhibition reviewed

An exhibition featuring works by Syrian artists based in Lebanon has come to an end after a two-week run at House of Vans London, under the train tunnels at Waterloo station.

The exhibition, which ran throughout International Alert’s Talking Peace Festival, showcased their workshops with Syrian refugee and other communities across Lebanon, and to captured their hopes for a better future.

Animations, short films, photographs and audio installations were dotted around the exhibition space, giving visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the sounds and stories of the featured artists. 

All of the participating artists have been running workshops for displaced Syrian children and young people in refugee camps and other communities across Lebanon as part of the Create Syria project run by International Alert, the British Council and the independent, Lebanon-based cultural organisation Ettijahat.

The exhibition was inspired by this project, which uses art to promote self-expression, collaboration and peace at a time when the refugee crisis in Lebanon is continuing to put pressure on the country and its people.

Charlotte Onslow coordinated the Create Syria project at International Alert:

“Create Syria has showcased the vibrant artistic scene alive among Syrian artists living in exile and highlighted how creativity and expression can open up space for wonder and calm in a time of crisis.”

Artists sent out a clear message through their works that Syria is not just about destruction and crises, but also re-growth and creativity.

Syrian filmmakers Abed al Aziz Aidy and Hisham al Zouki (pictured below) produced a film in collaboration with young adults based in a Lebanese refugee camp. The work, titled 'The camp and my parents' story', is dedicated to archiving oral memories and aims to shed light on the suffering. For Aidy, “art is a process of dismantling society and putting it back together again.”

Al Zouki said: "I learned from them [the young adults] that life is worth living despite everything. I constantly felt that I shared destiny with them as a refugee, but I also shared their hope."

Syrian television and theatre actress Raghad Makhlouf uses drama to teach young Syrians to start thinking about the future in a positive way. “I want to make [Syrian] teenagers dream again,” she told us.

Syrian animator Karim Qabrawi, painter Mohamed Aloosh, director of the experimental Koon Theatre Ossama Halal, artist Wissam al Ghati, conductor Barkev Taslakian and musician Hannibal Saad (pictured below) also participated in the show, which was curated by Ying Hsuan-Tai, of Goldsmith's University, London.

The exhibition launched with a packed private view on the UN International Day of Peace, 21 September, when some of the artists shared their experiences of being part of the project.

Among the attendees were comedian Harry Hill, reflecting (below) on a constellation board, which linked together each of the Syrian artists and their stories, and symbolised their shared hopes and dreams for a future without violence.

“It's brilliant to see some of the ways that art, acting and filmmaking are being used to support Syrian young people in refugee camps”, commented Hill. “They are learning to tell their own stories and develop new skills. The Create Syria project gives them hope for their future when the war is over.”

Human rights advocate Bianca Jagger also attended the launch night, while actress Trudie Goodwin visited with her daughter, singer La Roux. 

They were joined by actress Adjoa Andoh (below), who was among the visitors to put her mark on our new International Alert logo which was also unveiled on the night as part of our 30-year anniversary celebrations.

“As an actress and the daughter of a political refugee I believe passionately in standing alongside all communities striving for peace and mutual acceptance”, said Adjoh.

“The Create Syria project includes actors engaging with refugee children and young people through art. They are all working towards an understanding that peace is possible, within their own lives and hopefully, one day, within their troubled country. I am delighted to applaud their efforts, to join my hopes for peace with theirs, and to support International Alert’s work in supporting these artists and many other peacemakers around the world.”

Find out more about the Create Syria project and meet the artists behind the exhibition.

Photo credits:

© Caroline Eluyemi/International Alert (2016)

© Inalook Photography/International Alert (2016)