'Behind The Lines:' Exhibit at Calgary museum features work of Syrian artists
Taylor Rae - Assistant Editor
A digital image titled "Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos, Cultural Beheading I, 2015" is shown in this undated handout photo.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos
October 14, 2017 - 6:30 PM
CALGARY - A touring exhibit representing life in Syria has arrived in Calgary for its Canadian debut after a curator successfully arranged to have the art smuggled out of the war-ravaged country.
The "Behind The Lines" exhibit is the result of efforts by Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery in British Columbia to connect with contemporary artists in the Middle Eastern country through social media.
Crawford first reached an agreement with 19 artists to display their work. Then, in a leap of faith, he wire-transferred about US$5,000 to one of the artists to help smuggle out the art.
“He had to basically go through the black market in Syria, get the work out to Kuwait, then from there it went to Yemen or somewhere else, and then got to us,” said Crawford.
“It was kind of a harrowing thing, because walking around Damascus ... you're going through checkpoint after checkpoint."
Many of the pieces included in "Behind the Lines" arrived only hours ahead of the exhibit’s opening at The Military Museums on Friday.
One of the works entitled "Cultural Beheading" shows ancient buildings cleaved apart in the foreground of a desert landscape.
“The work all showed up and we were able to get the show hung on time. It was just one of those amazing things that came together at the right time."
The University of Calgary’s Founders' Gallery at the museum focuses on human conflict rather than military history. Curator Lindsey Sharman said the approach of "Behind The Lines" aligns with the gallery’s goals.
“One of the things that Paul (Crawford) was really adamant about is really wanting to humanize,” said Sharman. “That’s really what we like to do with the Founders' Gallery as well. We really show those human stories of war and ... this exhibition really fits in well with that.”
Crawford said he hopes the artwork will be well received by audiences in Canada and he encourages dialogue with the artists who still live in Syria. Contact information for them is displayed next to their work.
“If there’s a piece of art that you really respond to, connect with the artist,” said Crawford. “They’re all on Facebook or you can get them through email or Skype. Just reach out to them.
“Not only does it let them know that we’re paying attention here, halfway around the world, but it also gets you engaged with what happens there.”
Crawford said he’s uncertain if it will be possible to return the pieces to the artists when the tour ends. The art will be made available for sale with proceeds benefiting its creators.
“What better way to help them than by making these for sale?” he said.
“If (a) painting can remain in Canada and continue to be a testament to their struggle, then it serves everybody’s purposes.”
"Behind the Lines" will remain on display at the museum until Jan. 7. (CTV Calgary)
News from © The Canadian Press, 2017