From Syria With Love is an initiative showcasing artwork produced by Syrian refugee children aged twelve to eighteen living in Al-Abrar camp in Lebanon.
The exhibition is the brainchild of Syrian Baraa Ehsaan Kouja, who has been living in the United Kingdom whilst studying at the University of Exeter. Still living in his native Aleppo at the beginning of the Syrian civil war, he quickly became engaged in humanitarian work and eventually formed part of a charity kitchen providing 30,000 meals a day for internally displace people (IDPs). I encountered Baraa on a Facebook page providing updates on the Calais Jungle during the initial phase of the refugee influx into Europe. Baraa had already displayed the works at the University of Exeter and wanted to take it to other cities. I was part of a small group of people who worked to bring it to Brighton.
The event was staged at ONCA gallery, an exhibition space with a particular emphasis on conservational and environmental art. The exhibition ran for three days (6th-8th February) and featured roughly fifty art works drawn by displaced children. The pieces were displayed alongside photos of the artists with a brief biography and statement of dream. Most of the works reflect the violence engulfing Syria and feature traumatic images, while some display the hopes and dreams of those whose lives have been interrupted. The exhibition gives attendees an opportunity to connect with the emotions, distressing and hopeful, of those forced from their homes. It is an attempt to bring home the realities, and humanity, of those now seen primarily as statistics in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two. From Syria With Love simultaneously exposes the trauma felt by the children making up a feared ‘lost generation’ and their dreams of returning home, continuing their education and return peace to Syria.
The entrance level space was the focal point of the exhibition, presenting the artworks. The downstairs space was adorned with photos of the life in the camp, alongside video chronicling the Syrian civil war and a portrait of three Syrian boys utilising rap to express themselves. The event also features a talk from Baraa, which was held each evening, in which he speaks to the development of the crisis, his involvement in the charity kitchen and reminisces about Aleppo.
The principal aim of the exhibition is to raise awareness of violence and displacement in Syria. Funds are raised from the sale of prints of the artworks, specially designed t-shirts and generous donations. As a result of Baraa’s personal connections, the initiative is able to make full use of the money by directly giving it those living and organising the distribution of humanitarian aid in the camp. The initiative takes no fee and all exhibitions are self-financed. Furthermore there are no administrative fees of any kind and no money is lost to bureaucracy. The Brighton exhibition raised £1601, proving to be the largest amount raised by any solo exhibition so far.
For further information, or if you wish to bring From Syria With Love to your city, please visit the website at http://fromsyriawithlove.com/index.php/from-syria-with-love-art-exhibition/