(The Refugee Orchestra Project Performing in Boston. Photo by Scott Bump, via The Refugee Orchestra Project Facebook Page)

Syria: Despite Bloodshed, Refugees Show Indomitable Spirit Through Art

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There appears to be no end in sight.

The Syrian Civil War, now in its 6th year, has forced a staggering 11 million Syrians from their homes, and resulted in 13.5 people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

If these numbers seem historic in scale, that’s because they are. The current displacement crisis is more severe in its magnitude than World War II.

While well over 6 million are currently displaced within Syria – caught in between the dizzying array of allegiances and hostile parties – another 4.8 million are now based in refugee camps in neighboring countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan. Hundreds of thousands of others are seeking amnesty in Europe and North America, desperate to begin rebuilding their lives.

The influx of Syrian refugees, along with those fleeing conflicts in other nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq, has generated political turmoil in European countries. In some regions, governments have met refugees with great hostility, exemplified by Hungary. Video has shown Hungarian guards throwing food to refugees stuck in cages, and the nation has come under fire from the EU for shirking its obligations as a member of the multi-nation bloc.

In places like Germany and France, a growing right-wing populism has ushered in an anti-immigrant spirit on a continent that – relatively speaking – had spent decades cultivating a pro-human rights spirit, largely as a result of the carnage wrought by WWII.

Additionally, the United States has seen its share of fear-mongering over the crisis. In one of his many controversial statements, Donald Trump proposed an all out travel ban on Muslims, a myopic policy aimed at people’s somewhat fantastical fears of terrorists infiltrating the country disguised as refugees. Mike Pence – the Republican vice-presidential candidate and current governor of Indiana – had his plan to block refugee settlement in Indiana struck down by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which called his plan “nightmare speculation.”

All around, these are dire times for refugees; flung from their homes, targeted by right-wing demagogues abroad, refugees seeking dignity and security are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Many Syrians have taken this harrowing experience, however, and channeled it into art.

In refugee camps across the Middle East, Syrians have taken to art in order to preserve their culture as well as to persevere as human beings. At the Zaatari refugee camp located in Jordan, for example, Syrian artist Mahmoud Hariri utilized a makeshift workshop to construct a replica of the ancient city of Palmyra out of Kebab sticks and clay.

The artist spoke to The Guardian about his project:

Our history is being destroyed, and not just Syrian history but human history. These sites are thousands of years old, and when they’re gone you can’t rebuild them like you can a road or an airport.

Along with seven artists from the ISIS-controlled city of Dara’a, Hariri helped form a collective called  Art from Zaatari, which aims to reconstruct ancient symbols of Syrian culture that have been ransacked by radical extremists or destroyed in the civil war’s crossfire.

Refugees that have been fortunate enough to settle in new countries have also captured their distinct human experiences through creative expression.

For example, The Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, California revealed its  “Refugee Artists-in-Residence” program this month, which features the art of Syrian refugee Abdullah Taysan. After arriving in the United States this summer, Taysan collaborated with Israeli artist Raffael Lomas to construct a colorful rootless tree sculpture inside of a barn, rich with signification yet exploring the primary theme of rootlessness and the discovery of a new place to call home.

(Raffael Lomas discusses his collaboration with Abdullah Taysan, via Coast News Group)

On the opposite side of the country in Brooklyn, refugees have come together to participate in the Refugee Orchestra Project. Under the direction of Jewish Russian refugee Lidiya Yankovskaya, the orchestra has assembled an extraordinary array of talent, including Lubana Al Quntar – considered Syria’s first (and foremost) opera singer.

(Lubana Al Quntar performing, via The Library of Congress)

Art, an extension of the humanity’s spirt and imagination, has proved indomitable despite the horror and bloodshed of the Syrian Civil War. These and the works of courageous refugee artists not only provide solace for their compatriots, but also deliver a desperately needed jolt of awareness to the rest of the world that perhaps has not fully come to terms yet with the magnitude and severity of the Syrian crisis.

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