November 26 2015, The Fine Art of Peacemaking: an artists response to the refugee crisis

drawing by Taim Sfar

drawing by Taim Sfar

The Hague Peace Projects and the exhibition space GEMAK are organizing a series of public discussions themed “The Fine Art of Peace Making” (Vrede is geen Kunst?).
These sessions are an encounter between representatives of two worlds: on the one hand the world of professional art and on the other hand the world of peace activism.

Our second session was about Refugees and Migration. Everyday we hear about the flows of refugees coming to Europe. But what does it mean to be a refugee? And what does it mean for artists to live in a conflict zone? How does becoming a refugee influence their work? Two Syrian refugees told their story.

hiwwMuR1QenXjLzPqUrZpqWZpAsLn4L_eTTEEs9aHkkThe first speaker was Memo Jan, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo. Being in the Netherlands  for three years now he is trying to start a new life as an English teacher. Memo told us about his life as a refugee in The Netherlands and his efforts as a peace activist to contribute to the future of Syria. Memo told about his life as part of the Kurdish minority during the regime of Al-Assad. He remembers being told as a kid by his mother that ‘the walls have ears’: you could never be sure if someone was listening to report you to the police. When the revolution in Syria started Memo immediately joined the protests and demonstrations. However, when friends of him began to disappear, at a certain point Memo chose to hide himself and later fled to Europe.

drawing by Taim Sfar

drawing by Taim Sfar

The second speaker was the visual artist Bassam Alkhouri, who comes from Damascus. Bassam talked about one of his art school pupils, the eleven year old Taim Sfar, whose drawings tell the story of the Syrian war as seen through the eyes of a child.

Taims was born and spent the first years of his life in a crowded part of Damascus, just next to the ancient city wall. The neighbourhood is an example of the great expansions that both Damascus and Aleppo went through since the 1970s. Those cities grew from modest towns to huge metropoles with millions of inhabitants: Damascus 4 million and Aleppo 6 million. This was part of a policy to weaken the countryside by giving many people jobs in the State apparatus.

The results were overcrowded, half legal neigbourhoods of multi-story houses built by people themselves. An important part of daily life takes part on the roofs of the houses. This is the place where Taim loved to spend his time.

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Part of this architecture showed up in the drawings of Taim. Weird and complex structures form the stage of the story that Taim tells. He draws often clocks. He also draws boats which hover above the city, a memory of helicopters that used to bomb close to his home. Since Taim fled to Turkey with his parents, for a long time the people that he used to draw disappeared in his newer drawings. Just empty houses remained. Bassam thinks that the reason for drawing these houses could be the fact that he just missed home. Since recently Taim also makes short videos in which a compass plays a big role: the search for a direction.

drawing by Taim Sfar

drawing by Taim Sfar

After the presentations of Bassam and Memo there was an open debate with the audience. Many questions were asked about the Syria under Bashar Al Assad, about being a refugee and about being a child during wartime. The drawings of Taim made a big impression by the fact that they have a very particular esthetic and show in a very indirect manner the thoughts, fears and dreams of a child who lived through war, became a refugee and questions his future.

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