It was by chance I came across AptART (Awareness Prevention Through Art). A soul friend had just returned from Iraq where as a journalist she had followed the story of women affected by the war. In this journey of hardships she came across some hope in the form of street art. In these desolate refugee camps and war torn towns, children found a safe heaven to express themselves and find color and joy through art.
Among the UN Convention of the Rights of Children is Article 31 – the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. It may sound simple, but in a war torn country, filled with loss and uncertainty, art and expression rise as a critical outlet for these children. And in this never ending cycle of violence, where sorrow and loss begets more sorrow and loss, there is a deep need for healing and joy.
This was essentially what moved me to join forces with my friend to bring AptART to the US with the purpose of both fundraising for new projects and raising awareness of the challenges experienced in these seemingly distant lands. We were fortunate to gain the support from a local museum who generously offered us the space and acquiesced to the barrage of rubbish we hauled in from dump sites past master pieces of Botero and Picasso art!
We also had wonderful local children volunteers, including my 4 year old daughter, who joined us in creating art that contributed to the installation masterminded by the head of the non-profit. In a heartwarming moment, watching these children dive into the expression of art, I thought of parallels of all children in our world and their core needs for love, safety and joy.
The unspoken goal was to awaken the hearts of visitors and connect them to the realities of our fellow humans and children that equally deserve opportunity and dignity. We understood the power an art exhibit could have in taking viewers on a journey through war, isolation, separation and loss. Recreating the difficult reality experience in conflict torn nations.
The exhibit culminated in a bright room filled with art made by the same children affected by war. It was accompanied by art of established artists that had visited the camps and inspired by their experience created their own works. And finally, by beautiful photography of the children engaged in their essence of expression of joy, the beautiful murals and colors they had created, the change in scenery and expression that the medium of art had brought into their world.
The exhibit was accompanied by a discussion panel of experts. Here the NGO founder shared with us stories of the impact these interventions had made across the communities she had worked with. One story that marked me was that of the tough Jordanian refugee boys that carried wheelbarrows. Toughened by a conflict-stricken childhood, these entrepreneurial 8-11 year old boys were uninterested in the art, opting instead for a smoke or claiming they had work to do as they hustled to make a small fee by transporting smuggled basic necessities across the camp in their wheel barrels. Dismissed as hopeless hardened boys by the peace volunteers, these boys showed no interest in what they remarked as ‘childish’ activities like painting murals and canvas. Until someone had the idea to suggest they pain the wheel barrel. It just took one to come forward, and suddenly a queue of excited boys formed around the camp, each holding their wheel barrel and ready to dive into the bright colors of blue, orange, yellow and green. Joy filed their faces, and for that one moment – they were kids again – opening their hearts in expression of the brightest colored creations. Flowers, blue skies, and butterflies overtook what were once rusted old barrels.
This is the power of art. A subtle yet deep connection of expression from the soul. A window to healing, for these kids and for all.
Thank you to the wonderful visitors, donors and sponsors that joined us that evening and generously purchased works. In one night we raised enough proceeds to sponsor a project of murals in Beirut, Lebanon and beyond; bringing together children of all backgrounds to play, laugh, connect and express their hearts through art.
Thank you to everyone that made this possible!