Celebrating Syrian Art & Music

When we think of Syria’s devastating civil war halfway across the world, many of us in Canada are familiar with a barrage of heart-breaking images of bombed-out buildings and refugees on boats, constantly available in the news. So, how do we truly connect with those affected by war?

The ability of music and art to transcend nationality and personalize is demonstrated by the exhibit Behind the Lines: Contemporary Syrian Art in our main gallery. A diverse range of painting, sculpture, and photography explore the horrors of the civil war. Simultaneously, Mohammad Zaza’s mesmerizing and other-worldly, hand-drawn animated videos, and accompanying instrumental music, float across the gallery. This provokes complex emotions and energies amongst the message against war. Visual and musical representation of the personal experience of war is perhaps able to tell us more about Syria and its people than any news story full of facts and figures.

Being able to create and exhibit art is a risk for many artists in Syria who have been forced to flee to Europe and North America. Only six of the twenty artists that are featured in Behind the Lines are still living in Syria. We are lucky enough to have the Orontes Guitar Quartet in Canada for one year through an Artist Protection Fund fellowship as visiting artists at the University of Victoria, now on their Canadian tour. Their resilience and talent is nothing short of inspiring.

Photo courtesy of Orontes Guitar Quartet.

The Orontes Guitar Quartet will be at the Tidemark Theatre in downtown Campbell River, just across the street from the gallery, on Tuesday night in conjunction with the Campbell River Art Gallery’s presentation of the exhibit Behind the Lines: Contemporary Syrian Art curated by Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery. Paul will be giving a talk in the main gallery at 5pm before the concert. He will share his experience of creating the exhibit with Humam Alsalim from the Cyrrus Gallery in Damascus in 2016.

These events are not only an opportunity to enrich Campbell River’s understanding of the abundance and diversity of Syrian art and culture, but they are also a fundraiser for the Immigrant Welcome Centre of North Vancouver Island. $5 from each ticket goes to supporting programs for newcomers to Canada. Our community will be enriched by experiencing Syrian art and music, while also giving back and creating a lasting and local impact in our globalized world. International collaboration and connection can benefit all of us, which is exactly what will be celebrated Tuesday night.

Photo courtesy of Orontes Guitar Quartet.

We look forward to welcoming Paul and the Quartet on Tuesday and hearing their incredible performance. Don’t miss out – tickets are available online. Admission for Paul’s talk is $5 at the CRAG. Check out more upcoming events in June featuring Syrian film and food on the CRAG facebook page.

Check back every week for a blog post on what’s current and exciting at the CRAG this summer.

Putting the “International” back in International Museum Day

International Museum Day, this year falling on May 18th, brought into focus for me the importance of making connections between museums across the world. Sure, we could all celebrate in our own museums close to home, but what about moving beyond that? Museums, galleries and other cultural institutions are an excellent resource for getting in touch with your own community as well as encounter the wider world.

Exhibition view.

The Campbell River Art Gallery debuted the exhibit Behind the Lines: Contemporary Syrian Art on May 9th, making it truly an international museum. The show has travelled across Canada since 2016, broadening its reach even further. The Museum at Campbell River is also highlighting a month-long artist exchange with Indonesian artist Ipong Purnama Sidhi, currently happening on Quadra Island.

Visitors are encouraged to write letters directly to the artists.

The work that Humam Alsalim at the Cyrrus Gallery has done in concert with Paul Crawford and the Penticton Art Gallery to amplify the voices of the 20 featured Syrian artists speaks to the critical role that museums play as an intermediary for artists and art lovers, cultures and continents. This kind of international collaboration can be impactful on a micro or macro scale. Getting to know the artists, even in a small way such as sending a letter halfway across the world (there are pencils and paper waiting for you in our main gallery!) makes a museum more than just a place to exhibit art – a space for people to enjoy art and connect with it, not just a place to display it.

This exhibit is certainly a feat to celebrate. We hope that you visit and celebrate museums with us all year round. What museums have you visited internationally? Which ones are at the top of your list to visit next?