British Columbia

More than just refugees: Syrian kids tell their stories their way

New photo exhibition puts focus on Syrian kids themselves rather than their story of migration

Barfin Shaiko

Twelve-year-old Barfin Shaiko is one of the artists in the exhibit Capturing Our Stories: An Exhibition of Syrian Children's Photography at the Interurban Art Gallery (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

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The artists featured in a new Vancouver photography exhibition are recent refugees, but as their work shows, there's much more to their life story than the way they came to Canada and the violence they fled.

Curator Shawk Alani wanted to give kids the opportunity to tell their stories their way through photography.

A former immigrant herself, she felt as though the migration narrative was often thrust upon her and would become the main point of focus with people she met. 

"They have so many things to talk about, not just their experiences of migration," Alani told On The Coast's Jeremy Allingham.

"I spent my whole life moving from place to place and I always felt stuck always talking about those experiences and stuck in the frameworks imposed on me."

"There's so many things that are always imposed on you. It took me a really long time to get to a place where I could be really comfortable saying, 'I want to talk about something else.'"

She put together the exhibit Capturing Our Stories: An Exhibition of Syrian Children's Photography at the Interurban Art Gallery so people could see there was more to these kids than the traumatic way they came to Canada.

Meego Yassin, Shawk Alani, Nawar Tamawi

Left to right: Meego Yassin, Shawk Alani, Nawar Tamawi, the instructors and curators behind the exhibit. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

'They see the world in a very positive and happy way'

Twelve-year-old Barfin Shaiko is one of the artists in the exhibit. Her favourite photograph is of a swing ride at Playland.

Barfin Shaiko

Barfin Shaiko stand with her favourite photo, of a swing ride at Playland. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

"It was like, super cool, so I just took a photo of it," she said. "The photo looks super cute. It looks so clear."

She says she's a little nervous to have her work on display, but she actually wants to hear what people don't like about her work, so she can get better and learn more.

Alani says she has learned a lot herself just by working with the kids.

"They see the world in a very positive and happy way, which is really beautiful and a good reminder," she said.

"What we want is for people to think about is how if we give these kids all the tools to empower them rather than to make them objects of a narrative, how they're going to do tremendous things for Vancouver and for Canada."

The exhibit runs until Sept. 10.

With files from CBC Radio's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: More than refugees: Syrian kids tell their stories their way

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