A more humanist look at the Syrian conflict

More than just a war, the Syrian Eyes of the World exhibition takes a look at the people who are affected

The Syrian Eyes of the World exhibition, featuring portraits of Syrians accompanied by a caption that shares the image’s story, opened on Sept. 20 at the Bibliothèque du Boisé. Its goal is to shed light on the Syrian people and their diaspora, from a perspective unique from that of the Western media which focuses primarily on the ongoing conflict in the country.

It is a worldwide project involving Syrian photographers from around the world, including Canada, Syria, parts of Europe and in the Middle East. The project was launched in partnership with La Maison de la Syrie, a non-governmental organization promoting Syrian culture in Quebec.

“The project came from the urge of saying something about Syria and Syrians other than the war,” said visual artist and Concordia alumna, Madonna Adib, who is one of twelve photographers involved in the project. “For the past five, six years, we only hear about the war in Syria, but we never hear about the human side,” she said. The exhibition does not speak of war, of chemical weapons or the number of casualties—it speaks of individuals, their stories and what they have to say to the world.

“We asked people questions, apart from politics or religion, as this is the main thing that people are fighting about in Syria,” said Adib. “[The subjects] just talked about themselves, their stories, about anything they would like to share with the world. Anyway, people don’t talk about politics or religion, because they’re just fed up with that.”

According to Adib, some people were wary about taking part in the project—for fear of taking a side in the ongoing conflict. “It was an essential point for this project to be neutral, and it doesn’t take any side in anything. It’s just a space to talk about yourself, and to tell the world things that the news doesn’t,” she said. “Basically, we just want to show the individual side of Syrians, to let them express themselves as individuals—not groups of people who are getting bombed, or risk getting bombed or dying.”

A native of Damascus, Syria, Adib also has a personal take on the project. She said photographing her mother particularly moved her. “I really loved what she said. It really touches me, because I know how their life was in Syria before the war and the change that happened after the war,” she said. “I asked her, ‘What would you like to say to life?’ She answered, ‘You did us wrong.’”

This is a portrait that Syrian photographer Madonna Adib took of her mother. The exhibition tries to shed light on Syrians from a perspective other than war and conflict. Photo by Madonna Adib

The power of the subjects’ words, paired with their black and white portraits, constitute the greatest quality of the exhibition. Each picture tells a different tale about a different person, even though they all relate to the same topic: migration. “There’s no one that can connect to migration unless they’ve lived it. You try to connect, you try to feel the other’s feelings, but it never works,” said Adib. “At least, through this project, we’re trying to put a spotlight on something that people in Western countries don’t know about, which is good for them.”

“Everyone is special,” Adib said, when asked which of her subjects stood out the most. “When you start making conversation with a person, you hear their story. It becomes special because every story is unique, everyone has their own story, and you connect with those stories in a different way.”

Syrian Eyes of the World is an ever-growing project, and has major plans for expansion. “We’re now working on a documentary with Parabola Films [based] in Montreal, in which we’re following six characters in their daily life,” Adib said. “I don’t think it’s going to be done before three years, or four years, maybe, but we’re working hard on it.”

The exhibition is open until Oct. 14 at the Bibliothèque du Boisé, as well as the Bibliothèque du Vieux-Saint-Laurent. Admission is free. Afterwards, the exhibition will be touring seven libraries within the city of Montreal, until summer 2017.

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