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Syrian art exhibit at Campbell River gallery reveals turmoil and resilience

Behind the Lines features the work of 20 contemporary Syrian artists
Bathroom Mirror III by Aya Al Medani. Image courtesy Campbell River Art Gallery

A new travelling exhibition at the Campbell River Art Gallery (CRAG) provides a glimpse into a country devastated by war.

Behind the Lines, which opens tonight with a free reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., features the work of 20 contemporary Syrian artists.

“Individually and collectively, their powerful work stands as a testament to their existence and I hope will inspire similar voices not only in Syria but also here in Canada for generations to come,” said Paul Crawford, curator of the Penticton Art Gallery.

Crawford curated the exhibit with Humam Alsalim, who is based in Berlin.

Syria has been consumed by a civil war since 2011. The conflict has resulted in the death of more than 500,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other international monitors.

The exhibit reveals the humanity of the Syrian people amid the violence, said CRAG contemporary arts curator Jenelle Pasiechnik.

“I think the work humanizes people who seem very far away,” Pasiechnik said. “Their experiences presented before the viewer in this way brings them to life.”

She said the work isn’t defined by bleakness, but reveals the ability of the human spirit to rise above it all.

“It’s very resilient and very powerful,” she said.

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Untitled 5 by Reem Tarraf. Image courtesy Campbell River Art Gallery

Of the 20 artists featured, most are refugees, including one who lives in Canada.

The UN Refugee Agency has said that war has displaced more than half of Syria’s population, including millions of people internally and millions more seeking asylum abroad.

Six of the artists in the exhibition remain in Syria, where conditions make it impossible to exhibit their art. This underlines the importance of international exhibitions, Pasiechnik said.

“Not only is it significant for them to be able to exhibit their work at all because of the restrictions they’re under, but also their ability to communicate at such a great distance about their personal experiences of a civil war,” she said, adding that war is an experience unknown to most Canadians.

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The exhibit offers members of the public a chance to engage with the artists by writing to them as they sit in the gallery.

“We will be providing places for people to sit and contemplate, and they can write their letters out by hand or else they can take that information away with them and do it,” she said.

The works on display all reference the devastation of the Syrian civil war, and the materials themselves suggest the hardship imposed by war. It also shows the lengths that people will go to in order to carry on with their lives.

“Some of the canvases are cotton bedsheets,” Pasiechnik said. “These artists were working with whatever they could, whatever they had access to.”

More than 100 paintings, photos, videos and sculptures are on loan from the Penticton Art Gallery, which organized the exhibition in partnership with the Cyrrus Gallery of Damascus, which Alsalim cofounded.

To accommodate the large selection of artworks – there isn’t space in the gallery to display them at once – a second opening is taking place on June 13 at 5 p.m.

The CRAG is also planning several events related to the exhibition, including a special presentation by Crawford followed by an evening of Syrian music at the Tidemark Theatre on May 28.

On June 5, Syrian films are being screened at Timberline Secondary, and an afternoon of Syrian food, music and dancing is planned for Spirit Square on June 15. Guided talks and other activities will also take place at the gallery.

Check the CRAG’s website at for full details.


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