Our communications intern Daniel Carter takes a look at the recent independent art exhibition ‘From Syria with Love’, and how it can help us to understand the experiences of modern day refugees.
We often hear in the news of world-famous artist’s making thought-provoking statements on contemporary politics (Banksy’s latest artwork, depicting the poor treatment of refugees living in ‘the jungle’ camp in Calais being just one example of this). Less often however do we see work created by the people actually affected first-hand.
‘Art’ means many different things to different people. To me, art is something personal. Something that allows the creator to share a message – whether that be expressing the emotional impact of a personal experience, or making a comment on a reality of the world. Looking at art through this lens, it is easy to see why it may seem like the perfect medium through which to explore refugee experience, balancing the freedom to share personal and emotional experience with accessibility. So why is it that so far their voices remain largely missing from this discussion, and the art we look to for comments on this topic come primarily from westerners who have no personal experience of fleeing their home?
There are many reasons why this may be the case. The historic favoring of the white middleclass artist, our deeply engrained social hierarchies that value western viewpoints over all else, or the uphill struggle for aspiring artists to reach mainstream recognition without significant influence or financial backing. In the face of such obstacles, it becomes clear why barriers like this may stop many refugees from sharing their work with the world.
‘From Syria with love’ is one art exhibition that challenges this, offering art from the unique perspective of refugees fleeing violence.
Recently appearing at the charity fundraiser event ‘Funk The Borders’ alongside other refugee art organisations, ‘From Syria with Love’ is one art exhibition that ignores these obstacles, working to bring the artworks and voices of real refugees to audiences around the UK. Comprised of a number of drawings and paintings produced entirely by Syrian refugee children, this exhibition offers a rare insight into the lives and experiences of refugee children fleeing war today. Currently living in refugee camps in Lebanon, many of the artworks express the children’s own experiences within the camps or back home, or the similar experiences of others like them.
Growing up and living in the UK it is easy to make false assumptions about the realities of refugee experiences, especially when the power of communication is rarely held by people of refugee background. Viewing this collection, it is hard not feel an overwhelming sadness and empathy towards the children who have produced it. But alongside this, there is also something that the work of artist’s like Banksy fail to evoke. These artworks are not simply a shock-factor fuelled comment on the treatment of refugees, generalising the experiences of a group for a political statement. Instead, they share the personal story of a real person, with dreams and aspirations of their own.
As you gaze around the collection, there is the realisation that despite the terrible things that these children have endured, their resilience and hope for the future shines through. Hanging next to each artwork is a small plaque reading the child’s name, age, and dream. Reading these aspirations, it becomes clear that even in the face of terrible conditions these children stay hopeful for what is to come, and are determined to make a success of their lives.
Since it’s first showing in the UK in Exeter last October the exhibition has travelled to numerous locations both across the south-west and London, and will continue to spread their message in more locations throughout the UK in the coming year. But this exhibition is not alone in its quest to share the experiences of refugees, and there are numerous groups and charities across the UK who are beginning to recognise the empowering use of art for this purpose (Platforma, Counterpoint Arts, and Art 4 Warkids to name just a few).
In a world where the only interaction many people may get with the experiences of refugees often comes from a filtered and biased view of a third-party, art has the ability to break down social barriers and establish a connection between the creator and the consumer. Rather than hearing second-hand what refugees go through, art allows for personal experiences to be shared in a personal way, as told by the person who experienced them. Through their work, these artists are offering an alternative narrative to that of mainstream news corporations. A narrative that offers a personal account of hope and determination, and one that does justice to the struggles of the many whom it represents.
To find out more about this exhibition, and to see upcoming tour dates, check out their website at: http://fromsyriawithlove.com