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'These artists have nothing to lose': Syrian artwork at Penticton gallery highlights civil war

An exhibition in Penticton, B.C., displays art created by Syrian artists whose work reflects their unique interpretations of the country's civil war.

Behind the Lines exhibition offers a unique emotional glimpse into the Syrian civil war

A painting by Syrian artist Khaled Al Hamw. (Penticton Art Gallery)

An art exhibition in Penticton, B.C., is giving audiences a unique glimpse into the Syrian civil war.

The Penticton Art Gallery's exhibition Behind the Lines showcases work from 19 Syrian artists — some of whom are still living in Syria — and highlights the reality of living amidst the destruction and devastation of the Syrian civil war.

The exhibition's curator, Paul Crawford, says he hopes the gallery will bridge the gap between the lived experiences of Canadians and Syrians.

"It's totally shrunk the world in a way that I couldn't imagine," Crawford said on CBC's North by Northwest.

Crawford is using the exhibition as a way to create a dialogue between the visiting audience and the artists. He even shares each artist's contact information on each piece to foster connections.

"I hope that it will just let them know that we're paying attention on the other side of the world, and secondly ... that it will engage both parties to be more in tune with each other," he said.

A piece by Syrian artist Obaidah Zorik (Penticton Art Gallery)

Keeping in touch

The inspiration behind the exhibition followed Crawford's own experiences having pen pals across the world when he was a kid. He says it kept him engaged with how different life can be for people all over the world.

"I've had a long regret of giving up those pen pals that I had as a kid, because it opened up the world to me in ways that I never could have imagined that was possible," he said. "But I became a teenager, and that fell by the wayside."

Crawford is reigniting those lines of communication through his art exhibitions — and at the same time, uses them as a platform to get his audience involved and educated. 

"You have these preconceived notions of what life is like or what these people are like —  everything has been shattered through this experience," he said. "We're more alike than we are different, and I hope that's what this show instills in people."

A piece by Syrian artist Omran Younis (Penticton Art Gallery)

Nothing to lose

Crawford's exhibition was co-curated by Humam Alsalim, a student at Damascus University in Syria.

Alsalim had created an online gallery to showcase artwork from his friends and fellow students who had few opportunities to share their work.

"These artists have nothing to lose, so they put it all on the canvas," said Crawford. "There's no thought that they're making art for commercial purposes. They're just making art for art's sake. And they're just telling their story."

Crawford says he's taken aback every time he steps into the gallery.

"Every day I walk into it — I can't explain it. I just feel really blessed and honoured to be able to be a part of it," he said. "Each and every one of these pieces is certainly coming from a place of passion and commitment."

Behind the Lines ends on Sept. 11. Crawford hopes to take it on tour soon after.

A piece by Syrian artist Mohammad Zaza. (Penticton Art Gallery)

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Behind the Lines showcases the work of Syrian artists at the Penticton Art Gallery