THE BLOG

Istanbul Art Fair: Bringing People Together Through the Universal Language Of Art

14/02/2017 14:34

As more and more refugees find themselves seeking safety in Turkey, and the Syrian war rages on with no end in sight, it can be difficult to find the beauty in every day life.

It can be difficult to remember that we are all brought together by more than conflict and loss.

This is why International Medical Corps worked together with Arada Art and Culture Association and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to bring together artists from Turkey and Syria for the Istanbul Art Fair. The group consisted of artists from different backgrounds and disciplines, all collaborating on two exhibitions, created to be relatable to everybody.

Gulnar Hajo, a Syrian artist who is a part of the exhibition, told me what this opportunity meant for the visiting female participants.

"After surviving the tragedies of war in their homeland, they want to add a beauty and a small touch of love to the things they create in their everyday lives."

Prior to the war, Gulnar had a publishing house for children and was an author and illustrator for children's books. When she came to Turkey in 2012, like so many others she was struggling to adjust - yet she never gave up her work as an artist, instead building a life and a name for herself in her new home.

"My work is flexible and I can take it everywhere with me," she says. "I continue to work with my publisher here in Turkey and I also translate children's books into Turkish."

After two years in Istanbul, Gulnar together with a partner opened a bookstore and café called Pages - today a popular hub for Syrians to come, meet and exchange ideas. There she started conducting workshops for children on reading and drawing, as well as providing art therapy sessions. It was through the Istanbul Art Fair that she first came into contact with International Medical Corps and knew she had to get involved.

"For many women, this was the very first time they ever attended an art exhibition," she explains. "When they were exploring the art you could see a smile on their faces, a light in their eyes and a passing happiness.

"I discovered that I can give something to these women - therefore I have a duty to do what I can."

The first exhibition, called 'Similarities in Turkish and Syrian Architecture', is a comparative photography project showing the historical and cultural similarities between Turkey and Syria that go back to the Ottoman Empire era. The second exhibition - titled 'Women, Land and Cities' - puts women in focus: their status in society, their connection to nature, as well as global suffering as seen through the eyes of a woman.

The exhibition was the first time the group had worked together on a project.

In addition to the exhibitions, International Medical Corps organised psychosocial activities for children and women from the Syrian community during the art fair, with the aim to inspire them and encourage them of their abilities.

For both the participants and the artists, this experience has opened new doors.

Evrim Doğan, a Turkish artist, said: "I found many similarities between us Turks and Syrians. I am looking forward to working with this group again. We are always coming up with new ideas which keeps us motivated and inspired. It enables me to see different perspectives."

Through the universal language of art, people of all ages and backgrounds can find a common ground for understanding one another. The exhibitions achieved exactly that and much more.

The exhibitions inspired not only the participants but also the artists to create, express their feelings positively through an avenue of their own choosing and recognise that the paths that we all walk are more similar than we know.

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