One year after the Cowichan Valley welcomed the first Syrian refugee family, there are now about a dozen families settled here. Like many Canadians we tend to be concerned and curious about their lives in the embattled country. A brilliant new art show, Behind the Lines, opening Nov. 27, offers a unique view of the conflict through the eyes of young Syrian artists. This show is not to be missed.
Behind the Lines – Dates
Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 – with a special opening reception Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. Duncan United Church
Dec. 10-17 at Brentwood College School in Mill Bay
Lecture: Nov. 28 at VIU-Cowichan 12 noon to 1 p.m. Curator Paul Crawford presents the story of Behind the Lines.
While the Penticton Art Gallery is located in a small town, curator Paul Crawford has made sure it has a broad international view. Crawford created the original show featuring 100 works by 19 Syrian artists.
The touring show in the Cowichan Valley (due to continue to the Yukon, Grand Forks and possibly Calgary) is slightly smaller, with 36 pieces (video, painting, sculpture and photography) by 16 artists. The show opened in July in Penticton to an overwhelming response, said Crawford.
The Syrian show is the second in a series at the Penticton gallery, the first focusing on Canadian and Afghani artists. The challenge in the beginning was to be taken seriously, said Crawford, adding that another struggle was to get the art out of the country. He contacted Damascus art gallery owner Humam Alsalim to help him find the art. Then Alsalim had to roll up the unstretched canvasses and get them out of the country to Kuwait where they could be safely shipped to Canada.
This is more than a passive viewing experience. Crawford wants to start a conversation as well as send a message. The art pieces will have contact information for the artists. “The whole idea is to have people who come to the show reach out,” he said. “It lets them know we’re paying attention and people here find out firsthand what’s going on.”
Since many of the Syrian artists still live in the war-torn country, the artistic focus is brutal and full of raw emotion. “I look at art as a barometer of the health of a society,” said Crawford. “We have lost the desire to say much here. The art is dumbed down.”
Crawford said he was surprised and pleased at the quality of the technique and the imagery from these young graduates of the progressive University of Damascus. For example, Omran Younes has a master’s degree in fine art; Fadi al-Hamwi is a painter, video and installation artist, who lives and works in Berlin; Lina Malki is an award-winning figurative painter; and Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos are architects whose digital series ‘Cultural Beheading’ was a response to ISIS-led destruction of the ancient site of Palmyra.
Admission to the exhibit is by donation.