A group of young Syrian artists have collaborated to illustrate life in opposition-held areas during the Covid-19 pandemic. The artists produced two exhibitions – combining art, music, and activities – that offer powerful insights into the daily lives of Syrian displaced and ethnic minorities, and demonstrate how art can bring people together and act as a tool for local peace.
The two exhibitions were held in the framework of a research project supported by the FCDO-funded Covid Collective Research Platform at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS). The research revolves around PSRP’s work on the nexus between the Covid-19 pandemic, peace and conflict and the interplay between several layers of crises. In Syria, PSRP Research Associate Dr. Juline Beaujouan and two of her colleagues – Abdulah El hafi and Eyas Ghreiz – built on collaborations with local communities in opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country to investigate the shifting role of local civil society during the pandemic.
The research team partnered with two groups of artists in Azaz and Afrin in the northwest of Aleppo. Both cities are currently under the control of the de facto Syrian Interim Government and a strong Turkish influence at a political and military level. Sixteen young artists aged 16 to 25 collaborated on the project to depict the lives of their communities during the pandemic. Through 60 unique creations, they offered valuable and graphic insights into the suffering of Syrian displaced and ethnic minorities, among other important themes.
The first art exhibition was held in Azaz on Wednesday 7 April 2021, with the support of Athar Youth Team and in collaboration with the Free University of Aleppo under the title: “There is not only Covid-19 Syrians suffer from”. It was attended by close to 400 visitors, including important local figures such as the president of the University, a member of the Constitutional Committee, members of the Syrian Coalition and members of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets). The event was covered by Azaz Media Office.
On Monday 12 April 2021, the second exhibition was held in Afrin – a city historically inhabited by Kurdish populations – in collaboration with the Civilization Cultural Association and Gaziantep University under the title “Let us draw peace together”. The event was meant as an encounter between Arab and Kurdish artists to foster cross-community interactions. Besides visual art, it featured live music and activities for children. The event attracted 200 visitors and was covered by local media, including al-Jazeera Syria. Partners and volunteers were particularly grateful as it was the first event of its kind to bring together two groups representing different ethnic and religious affiliations around a common project.
Besides supporting local actors of everyday peace in their own terms, the project created momentum for artistic expression in the two cities and further collaborations among and between artists, academic institutions and civil society. The two team were invited by the director of the Watan Cloud organisation for women to hold a third exhibition in al-Bab city – in the northeast of Aleppo – after the month of Ramadan. The artists will also receive training on soft skills to allow them ownership of the project and enable them to sustain the momentum through more activities and civic engagement.
The success of the activities prompted several local figures to sustain the momentum and transform the collaboration into a partnership in its on rights between youth in Azaz and Afrin. The Minister of Local Administration in the Interim government and head of Afrin local council is currently working on establishing a team of Arab and Kurdish youth volunteers to build youth capacity and re-activate the marginalized volunteer and civil society network in Afrin. Similarly, the head of the education office within Afrin local council is investigating avenues for further cooperation with regards to education. The latter will empower groups of students at Gaziantep University (Afrin) and the Free University of Aleppo (Azaz) to coordinate cross-community cultural and artistic activities after the month of Ramadan. Finally, the two teams of artists are discussing future common projects to foster a culture of understanding, tolerance and peace in their areas. In addition to art exhibition, the artists in Azaz will help build the capacity of their colleagues in Afrin who have been marginalized and lack opportunities to use their art as a tool of expression and local peace.
The exhibitions will soon be accessible virtually through PSRP’s website.
To learn more about the life of young Syrian artists in opposition-held areas and the importance of art in conflict-affected countries, read our blog “Art as a tool for local peace: Reflections of young artists in Syrian opposition-held areas” published in the Local Voices at a Crossroads series on the website of Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS).
To find out more about the events and PSRP’s current projects in Syria, contact Dr. Juline Beaujouan at J.Beaujouan-Marliere@ed.ac.uk.