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Make bubbles not war; Syrian art debuts in Calgary

The Founders' Gallery exhibition features artists still living in the war torn country

Paul Crawford had to bring the paintings in through Syria's black market

Aaron Chatha / Metro Order this photo

Paul Crawford had to bring the paintings in through Syria's black market

The only way Paul Crawford could get these Syrian paintings to Canada was through the black market.

The work of 19 Syrian artists is on display at the University of Calgary’s Founders’ Gallery at the Military Museums in Calgary. Most of those 19 artists are still living in Syria.

Through the art, he hopes Calgarians can build a greater understanding of the Syrian people and what's happening in the country right now. The exhibition is called Behind the Lines: Contemporary Syrian Art.

It’s a wide range, too. One artist explores the beast present in man by painting a half horse, half man staring at himself in the mirror.

Another, a photographer, shoots a reflection of Syria through bubbles, with a seemingly straightforward message: ‘Make bubbles, not war.’

One of the more popular artists is one of the roughest – a young woman sketches out cartoons to send back to family in Canada.

“This is now representative of the makeup of Calgary,” said gallery curator Lindsey Sharman, gallery curator.

“We now have a lot of Syrian refugees who have come to Calgary and made this their home, so this exhibition is definitely now representative of Canada as well.”

The Syrian civil war has killed nearly half a million people, according to Syrian Center for Policy Research. The Canadian government committed to helping more than 25,000 refugees enter Canada in 2015, at least 4,000 of which came to Calgary.

It was soon after that when Crawford got in touch with an art gallery curator in Damascus (Humam Alsalim, 21 and still a student), and they began formulating a plan to bring artwork to Canada, to help these artists spread their message.

Crawford included many of the artist’s emails in the gallery brochures, so Calgarians can reach out and learn more about the Syrian crisis from people who are still living there.

“The prospects of actually showing these artists' work in a commercial or public gallery was pretty much nil,” said Crawford. “They would do shows in Syria and Damascus, but they were preaching to the converted. Sharing their own stories and keeping their spirits up by creating culture in a wasteland. It’s art made for art’s sake – it wasn’t made so it could sell. It’s a testament to that moment I their lives.”

The exhibition will run until Jan. 7, 2018.

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