Already devastated by war, recovering from massive forest fires, and facing an economic crisis, Syria is now preparing for a second wave of COVID-19. To support Syria, the McGill Syrian Students’ Association (SSA) is hosting Peace of Art for COVID on Nov. 14, a virtual art auction to raise money to purchase basic necessities and medical supplies. Resources will be delivered in collaboration with Saeed Society, a non-profit organization working in Syrian provinces to deliver aid to those in need. The auction will be conducted via Facebook Live and will feature a wide range of artwork by artists from Syria and Montreal.
In the Syrian capital, Damascus, estimates show that only one in 80 deaths caused by COVID-19 have been reported. Due to limited testing capacity, the true extent of transmission has been obscured by unreliable statistics. Sarah Al Ani, U4 Education and SSA President, explained the Association’s objective to inform people of the realities Syrians are experiencing.
“One of our main goals is to raise awareness of the pandemic in Syria and how people can help,” Al Ani said. “[Syria] is facing an economic crisis and basic necessities are unavailable, but I don’t see much coverage on the pandemic in the Middle East.”
The money raised will support the efforts of Saaed Society, who are providing Syrian communities with medical supplies including oxygen concentrators and masks. Because of the ongoing civil conflict, northwest Syria lacks access to clean water, hygiene, and sanitation—fundamental resources for the prevention of COVID-19. In addition, the country’s authorities are failing to protect health workers in hospitals filled beyond capacity and facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). Further, the distribution of PPE and supplies is often discriminatory.
Due to the risk of inequitable distribution, the SSA team was careful in selecting the organization to collaborate with. Al Ani explained that the SSA valued Saeed’s Society integrity.
“We wanted to work with an NGO who works on the ground in Syria,” Al Ani said. “We care about transparency in the process and really wanted to have a personal connection with the organization.”
For the SSA, art also plays an essential role in their mission to garner support for Syria. Drawing on her personal experience in teaching, Al Ani discussed art’s power in creating empathy and understanding.
“I think art is a form of expression,” Al Ani said. “I’m an education student, and I was trying to teach my fourth-year students about the Syrian War but the resources we have are often very graphic [….] It’s hard for someone who can’t relate to it. With art, you can tell a story of [issues] that are difficult to articulate.”
The artists donating their works encompass a wide range of experiences and mediums, from poetry to resin. Many are professional artists and are members of the Association pour la Promotion de l’Art Contemporain Syrien, an organization working to boost the influence of the Syrian art scene internationally. Other artists donating works are local Montrealers and students. Khaled Youssef, a French Syrian photographer and poet, explained that his work revolves around presenting an alternate view of the world, capturing it through the lens of bubbles and poetry. Randa Hijazi’s canvases and art furniture explore the loss of empathy through colourful expressions, while Frédéric Daty uses metal and light to create sculptures conveying constant evolvement.
What unites multiple artists are the diverse stories they tell of Syrian culture, war, and displacement; together, their work deepens the public’s understanding of the country.
“Many people associate Syria with the war, but there’s so much culture that isn’t seen,” Al Ani said. “Many of our artists show the beauty of Syria before the war. It helps change the narrative. Syria is more than just the war, it’s a country with rich culture and history.”