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Exhibit featuring smuggled work of Syrian artists arrives at The Military Museums
Published Thursday, October 12, 2017 9:52PM MDT
A touring art exhibit representing life in Syria has arrived in Calgary for its Canadian debut after the curator successfully arranged to have the art pieces brought over from the Middle East.
The ‘Behind the Lines’ exhibit is the fruits of the effort of curator Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery to connect with contemporary artists in the war-ravaged nation through social media. After reaching an agreement with 19 artists to display their work, Crawford said one of the artists helped smuggle art out of Syria after the curator sent him a wire transfer of approximately $5,000 USD on a leap of faith.
“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 and buying sonotubes and everything else, you're going through checkpoint after checkpoint, and they're wondering what the hell are you doing with all those tubes?.”
Many of the pieces included in ‘Behind the Lines’ arrived only hours ahead the exhibit’s debut at The Military Museums on Friday night.
“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 Military Museums places a focus on human conflict rather than military history. Lindsey Sharman, curator of the Founders Gallery, says the approach of the Behind the Lines exhibit 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 I think this exhibition really fits in well with that.”
Crawford says he hopes the artwork will be well received by audiences in Canada and he encourages dialogue between Canadians and the artists who continue to reside in Syria.
“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.”
Contact information for the artists will be displayed next to their work. “Not only does it let them know that we’re paying attention here, halfway around the world, but it also gets you engage with what happens there.”
Crawford says he’s uncertain if it’s possible to return the pieces that were smuggled out of Canada to the artists when the tour ends. The art will be made available for sale with proceeds benefitting the artists. “What better way to help them then by making these for sale?” asked Crawford. “If this 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 Military Museums until January 7, 2018.
With files from CTV's Kevin Fleming