Collaborating for the Being Human festival: ‘From Syria With Love’
By Dr Amanda Phipps, public engagement officer at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and Baraa Ehssan Kouja, founder and director of From Syria With Love
This post explores a fantastic event held at Senate House by the charity From Syria With Love for Being Human 2017. Amanda from the Being Human team discusses how the successful collaboration came about and how the simple format of a pop-up exhibition created a powerful space to explore artwork by young Syrian refugees. In a short video, founder and director of From Syria With Love Baraa Ehssan Kouja also shares his experience of participating in the festival and the opportunities it provided his charity.
While the Being Human team have their hands full during the festival supporting over 300 events across the country, we often can’t help wanting to put on a few ourselves at Senate House – Being Human HQ. For 2017 we curated a small series of events which explored the festival theme of ‘Lost and Found’, such as an LGBTQ+ scrapbooking workshop led by Queerseum and a pop-up archive display by Festival in a Box on their ‘cultural meals on wheels’ for socially isolated people in Bloomsbury and Camden. These events created a great buzz around Senate House and it was fantastic to watch people interact with our cultural partners.
One of the highlights of our festival series was a pop-up exhibition by From Syria With Love, a charity which aims to raise funds and awareness about the current refugee crisis. The exhibition displayed artwork created by children living in refugee camps who had participated in From Syria With Love workshops. The unique artwork provided a channel for young people to express their emotions and experiences, and for visitors of the exhibition to learn about the trauma and tragedy they have faced.
I had previously seen From Syria With Love’s founder and director Baraa Ehssan Kouja present the artwork during its first international tour. I was therefore very keen to ask Baraa to be part of the 2017 festival with its theme being ‘Lost and Found’ as the exhibition powerfully explored the thoughts and feelings of those who are at threat of becoming a lost generation through war and conflict. Over a period of several months we corresponded about bringing the exhibition to Senate House. As the exhibition already existed it made the process of creating a pop-up event far easier and I would recommend adapting and tailoring works like this to anyone interesting in being part of the festival. It was also amazing that Baraa came and walked visitors through the exhibition on the day, bringing the artworks and the personal stories behind them to life.
We positioned the exhibition at the entrance to Senate House to ensure maximum footfall and unsurprisingly this led to many passers-by stopping and exploring. We also promoted the pop-up via social media, posters in the local area and by contacting administrators in local schools and universities. This resulted in a healthy number of groups coming to visit Baraa for a tour of the exhibition. I was amazed at the impact we were able to achieve on the day with a few display boards and promotional signs. The artwork was incredibly engaging and Baraa was so insightful that this relatively simple format created a very moving event for the festival.
On a personal note, I found working on the pop-up exhibition deeply rewarding. Although challenging to organise in the hectic period of the festival, it was a poignant reminder of why Being Human is so special – facilitating and providing a platform for important topics and creative works to be seen and discussed. It was also great to work with Baraa whose dedication to the event and passion for the charity made the process run smoothly. Here are a few words from him about his experience of being part of the festival and the great work that From Syria With Love continue to do.