In Praise of Art
by Huda Alawa
One of the most overlooked aspects in any crisis situation is maybe something a bit abstract, albeit visual: art. In the case of Syria, art is an expression – an attempt, an action.
A way to make a difference, whether that be for one's country, oneself, or a global humanity.
Art reminds of subversive protest: a declaration of hope amidst the abyss of despair we are surrounded with.
Let's take a moment to consider the start of the Syrian revolution.
Eight years ago, a few boys in Syria graffitied on a school wall: Your turn has come, Doctor.
It might seem innocuous, but the art had a clear message – the Syrian people were ready to fight for their freedom. It was this art that brought NuDay to fruition. Inspired by the power of the Syrian people, NuDay Syria wanted to reflect their empowerment through ensuring that they were heard and supported, even across the world.
Art has long been a form of expression, and for those protesting an oppressive regime, this remains true.
But at the same time, art can be a way of making sense of the world around us.
Two years ago, I travelled to Turkey and met with many displaced Syrian mothers and children. I was invited into their homes to share a cup of tea – which they offered despite not having much else – and to hear about their lives. Along the way, I was accompanied by an elderly Syrian woman who assisted me with the translation when my Arabic reached its limits. Halfway through the trip, she and I took a much-needed physical and emotional break. Taking the opportunity, I asked her more about herself and she told me that she wanted to show me something she had made. She pulled out her smartphone and sent me a series of five images she had drawn: images of fluorescent stick figures standing out against a deep black background. The scenes were graphic, reflecting her time in the regime’s prison for her democratic advocacy.
I still have those photos saved. As much as they hurt to look at, they remind me of the strength of Syria, the women and children who relentlessly speak up for good.
For her, art is therapeutic. It legitimized her experiences and moved the trauma outside of her mind.
Art can be healing.
There is nothing more satisfying than receiving art from Syria's children, to see how this art reflects their life as they evolve. These children have fought so hard to exist, whether that be in Syria or here in America.
Take the young boy whose refugee case NuDay took over. When he first arrived in the United States, he was reserved and hesitant. His creative moments reflected this – whenever he drew, he would pick darker tones and present grim scenes. However, as time passed and he began to heal – both physically and mentally – his drawings began to reflect this. All of a sudden, black became replaced with light blue, red with yellow; a rainbow began to appear.
When a child goes from a stressful situation into being told they are valuable and deserving of their basic rights, they come to believe in themselves, and begin to see the world around them in a better light.
That's what art does. It gives us – especially Syria's youth – an outlet to heal, to once again see life through the bright shades. It is an inspiration to see that Syria's children, despite everything they have witnessed, understand that the world is a bright and beautiful place, a place as wonderful as their deepest dreams.
It is this hope that continues to power the work that NuDay does, that flows through NuDay's efforts. We work in honor of Syria's young artists: the children who deserve to lead healthy and playful lives, just as anyone else. And together, we are painting a new future: one where everyone lives with dignity.
Huda Alawa is the Development Director at NuDay.