As their homeland has suffered destruction in recent years, many Syrian youth have found solace in art. To recognize refugees' creativity and struggles, the Gary Nader Art Centre in Wynwood is hosting "Refuge in Paint."
The exhibition, which is on view through April 22, features creative works from 3,000 displaced youths and has been arranged not only to spread awareness of the horrors many of them have faced, but also to show their common humanity — their hopes, dreams, fears.
When the retrospection opened last month, more than 500 locals gathered inside the white halls of the gallery to see the original artwork and listen to a four-member panel, one of them a local Syrian student, discuss the human-rights crisis that is unfolding in the Middle Eastern country.
The panelists explained to the audience that the civil war ravaging Syria is between the nation's official government and "Free Syrian" rebels, a group that feels oppressed by Bashar al-Assad, the country's ruler. Refugees say Assad has gone on a rampage against the people since the spring of 2011, when peaceful demonstrations challenged his rule.
Felipe Arango, an advisor to the non-profit Welcoming America, who spoke at the event, told New Times he believes one reason many refugees’ stories fall on deaf ears in the United States is because many Americans are wary of foreigners.
“We cannot allow the story about refugees to speak to our innate ‘stranger danger’ emotions,” Arango says. “The magnitude of the current humanitarian crisis demands more from us, and empathy is central to our nature.”
Over the course of the ongoing warfare, much of Syria has collapsed into ruins under the force of bombs and nearly 500,000 people have died. This past Tuesday, for instance, a chemical attack on a rebel-held town — reportedly ordered by Assad — killed at least 70 civilians, including children. People foamed at their mouths while trying to breathe.
Many refugees, about 10 million of them, have fled Syria for fear of dying or being sent to prisons, places refugees say are worse fates than dying because of the ongoing, unchecked torture. More than half of the migrants are children, the gallery says. On top of this, terrorist groups such as ISIS are exacerbating the strife in the Middle Eastern country.
Last year, in an email to New Times, U.S. President Barack Obama described the horrors that many Syrian refugees have faced.
"The human cost of this conflict is evident, captured in searing images of Syrians killed by their own government, refugees waiting at border crossings, and children drowned trying to escape war," Obama wrote. "Helping those who have been pushed to the margins of our world is a matter of collective security, and we have a moral responsibility to assist families forced from their homes."
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The president's sentiment is shared by the organizers of "Refuge in Paint." AptART, for example, one of the lead organizers of the exhibition, is a group of renowned artists working to give marginalized youth a platform to display their creative work in an effort to amplify their voices and help improve their living conditions by spreading awareness of their adversities.
Many Syrian refugees, particularly children, struggle with PTSD — the repercussions of living in a war zone, a place where explosions shatter not only eardrums but also lives. With this milieu in mind, the new exhibit in Wynwood invites viewers to see the world as refugees see it rather than through the filter of the mainstream media.
“We wanted to create awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis and what people are going through, especially the children,” Gary Nader says. “It is important to me to tell their stories and let people know that refugees are good people.”
"Refuge in Paint"
Through April 22 at Gary Nader Art Centre, 62 NE 27th St., Miami; 305-576-0256; garynader.com. Admission is free.