Aiding Syrian refugees by nurturing art and activism

April 18, 2016

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun |

DELTA — There was chaos in the art room Thursday at Seaquam Secondary School and outside as well.

Kids carted in bags of flour and sugar for the paste-makers at the front of the room, while others carted paste buckets outside.

At the back of the room, a dozen or so paint-flecked students scrambled to finish oil paintings for Monday night’s silent art auction. There was a nearly finished portrait of a Syrian refugee in stark grey, black and white, an Impressionist-inspired waterscape of asylum seekers in a lifeboat, a young boy’s face framed by a Syrian flag whose stars appear to be dripping blood and a collage of negative media reports painted over with the face of a refugee.

The money raised from the auction, which has a $25 minimum bid, will go to Umoja, a Surrey-based immigrant settlement society that serves about 150 families including more than 20 government-assisted Syrian refugees.

Outside the school, more students from the International Baccalaureate Arts 11 and Social Justice 12 classes were moving ladders and unwrapping seven-foot-by-12-foot photographs of refugees that would soon be pasted on the wall at the school’s entrance. The exterior art is part of the Inside Out Project started in 2011 by TED prizewinner, JR, a Parisian street artist whose large-scale portraits have been pasted on walls all over the world.

Social justice student Manjot Kaur and art student Connor Krezan took a special interest in seeing the massive photos. They were the photographers who went to the home of the government-sponsored Syrian family — father, mother and two children including a baby — who arrived in January in Surrey. Their images were used by the artists and edited down to the eyes only to protect the family’s privacy.

Collectively, these kids are Students for Syrians Refugees. They’ve been energized by an extraordinary student teacher, Carling Jackson. In two-and-a-half months at the school, she has turned them into passionate advocates for the 25,000 refugees already in Canada and for the millions of migrants who have yet to find safe haven.

“Ms. Jackson totally made us feel like we could make a difference,” says Demitra Souros, one of the group’s three marketing managers.
Challenged by Jackson to make a difference, Souros and the other social justice students asked art students in another class — also taught by Jackson — for help.

Those students became equally enthusiastic.

“What we’re doing is for this really fantastic cause,” said Eliza Lutek, who was finishing up a portrait of the mother, based on Krezan’s photo.

Lutek said she was interested in social justice issues before, with feminism and human rights being themes she’d explored with her photos, illustrations and drawings.

But Jackson used the art auction as an incentive for them as she taught them about using oil paint, which was outside Lutek’s and others’ comfort zone.

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