Syria, Beyond Arts

Syria, Beyond Arts 2015 was a collaboration between the Prince Claus Fund and the British Council that offered support for high quality artistic projects by Syrian artists, photographers, theatre makers, film makers, writers and publishers either displaced or in exile as a result of the war. The two organisations issued a joint call for project proposals and selected a total of 8 projects from 4 countries (Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan) The aim was to advance contemporary forms of expression, to share alternative narratives, to raise awareness about the situation in Syria and solidarity with its displaced people. Additionally, the project helped build a platform for emerging and established Syrian voices and provided a springboard for international recognition. To document the projects and show their impact with a human face, the Prince Claus Fund asked Syrian photographer and filmmaker Omar Imam to make short film clips of a selection of 3 of the Syria, Beyond Arts projects.

A Ticket to Atlantis

Artists Mayar Alexan and Lina Issa wanted to address the issues of migration in a different way, a way that would be subtle, immersive, and could spark serious discussion. Together with the musician Santiago Cordoba, Alexan and Issa created a multi-disciplinary performance that explores the relationship between the human being and body, on one side, and the sea, on the other. A Ticket to Atlantis is an encounter of man with the sea, with the unknown, with utopia, with solitude and with death. It takes the audience on a quest for lightness; a state where one can let go of the burdens of identity.

The performance departs from the genuine experiences and images of immigrants in the sea. And it ponders the following questions: What happens when a link is created between the obsession of finding a safe haven and the ancient myth of Atlantis, the lost sunken city? And what if the sea had a memory and a voice: What would it tell us…?

A Ticket to Atlantis was performed at a beach in Beirut and received widespread coverage in Lebanon, with many newspapers applauding its high artistic quality. The performance also took part in the Dancing on the Edge festival in The Hague, the Netherlands.

The makers write that they felt the main project achievements were “Having a public debate and exposure for the issue of crossing the sea to Europe and the human crisis in a subtle and deep way, away from the sensation and the logic of the news.”  In addition, the Syrian and Lebanese people involved in the process of creating the work not only earned income, they were also allowed to express themselves, “presenting their dignity and strength and personal luggage.”

Film by Omar Imam, Editing by Dennis Overeem with support from British Council

Mare Nostrum

A short, silent film can say a lot.  Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) tells the story of migration through the fears and hopes of a Syrian father, who contemplates sending his six-year old daughter across the Mediterranean in order to reach Europe. Filmed by Syrian born Anas Khalaf and his Russian partner, Rana Kazkaz, with music by Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh, the film has had great success. It’s been shown in 85 festivals, in 45 countries and received 31 awards, including two acting awards for the filmmakers’ daughter, Zayn, who plays the daughter.

They write, “After having participated in many Q&As with the film, we can tell you with great humility that it has touched people right in their hearts and their humanity, on all continents, all over the world, across all cultures. This is certainly the best gift of all.”

They add that support for Mare Nostrum helped them tremendously with a feature film project about Syria, which they are hoping to film in Jordan this year.

Film by Omar Imam, Editing by Dennis Overeem with support from British Council

Pages Bookstore Café

Children displaced by war will never know their own culture the way their parents and grandparents knew it. That troubled Syrian publisher Samer al-Kadri and his artist wife Gulnar Hajo, who had established a children’s publishing house, Bright Fingers, in Syria before the war. Forced into exile in Turkey with their own two daughters, Samer and Gulnar decided something needed to be done to give displaced children a sense of their own heritage. So in 2015, together with several Syrian friends, they set up Pages Bookstore Café. It was the first Arabic bookstore in Istanbul, and soon became a home away from home for various exiles, as well as a pleasant place for locals, where they could meet and mix and experience each other’s food and music and literature. The idea was so successful, there are now more Pages Bookstores in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and plans are afoot for other cities.

With support from Syria, Beyond Arts 2015, Pages Istanbul offered a series of multi-day workshops on different topics, ranging from storytelling, puppetry, drawing, literature and performance arts to

design, media, journalism, human development, peace and conflict studies and more.

Jihad Bakr teaches Turkish to Syrian children at a local school in Istanbul. Omar Imam was filming on the day Bakr was supervising a visit by his class.

“They need to know a different face of the society, to see their own Syrian community from a different perspective. Syria is not just war and what their families know. We have art and culture.”

Film by Omar Imam, Editing by Dennis Overeem with support from British Council