Drawings of Defiance: Art of the Syrian Revolution (Slideshow)
A couple of artists from Kafranbel, Syria, a small city known for its creative citizens, have been making posters that symbolize their plight with nothing but markers and cardboard.
When you hear about the Syrian revolution, art isn't the first thing that comes to mind. For one town, however, art has not only become its defining symbol, but a key to its liberation.
Kafranbel, a town in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, has become well known for the handmade drawings and banners produced by its citizens that criticize not only the Syrian government and its actions, but also the inaction of the global community.
Every Friday protesters marched through the streets, carrying the posters and chanting their demands. Eventually it worked, and with the help of rebel fighters, the town was freed from the control of the Syrian army on August 10, 2012.
Two artists create the drawings, and another person does the writing. All of the posters are dated and labeled either "Occupied Kafranbel" or "Liberated Kafranbel."
The Syrian American Council of Indianapolis, with the help of a few young Syrian American students passionate about freeing the country of their ancestors, were able to bring some of those drawings to Indianapolis.
Last week, 25 posters and banners were on display in two locations in the city. On Thursday afternoon, an exhibit at the campus center on IUPUI's campus drew 100-150 people.
"We've had a bunch of great responses," said Laila Basha, a recent graduate of IUPUI. "Sometimes it's hard to get non-Syrians involved, but a lot of people are into art."
"The number one goal is to raise awareness," said her sister, Leena Basha, an IUPUI freshman who has been involved in organizing flash mobs and walks on campus and in downtown Indianapolis. "It's shocking and sad that people don't know that hundreds of people are being shot and killed."
Sunday's event, held at Eman Elementary School in Fishers, drew more families. While both exhibits had optional entrance fees that would go towards aid in Syria ($5 on Thursday, $10 on Sunday), the latter had more of a fundraising feel. The money raised from both events will go directly to Kafranbel, where many of the citizens are without food, fuel, and much needed medical aid.
The donations from the members of SAC Indianapolis and the greater Arab community that supports them will be hand-delivered to Kafranbel by another young Syrian American from Indianapolis, Kenan Rahmani, and a group of (mostly student) activists who will be spending their spring break in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.
This will not be Rahmani's first time in Syria since fighting broke out nearly two years ago. In December of last year, he went with another group of young activists on a trip organized by the national Syrian American Council to bring aid and get in touch with freedom fighters on the front lines.
"We want freedom, and we'll do whatever it takes," said Rahmani, who is currently a law student at the University of Notre Dame.
As a member of the national SAC board, Rahmani is one of the most visible young Syrian American revolutionaries, but he is definitely not alone. Both he and his younger brother Sami noted that youth have always been an integral part of the rebellion.
"The revolution was started by young people," Kenan Rahmani said. "It's been the young people that have been the most fearless."
Sami Rahmani, a student at IU Bloomington, agreed. "I've never seen so many young people involved," he said.
But while the younger generations have been off fighting a revolution in whatever way they can, the older generations have been left to worry for their children.
Kenan and Sami's mom, Lina, said she is proud of her sons, but worried for them and for the people of her country, whom she considers all her family.
"Every morning I'm scared to turn on the news," she said. "(The fighting) has made me lose faith in everything."
Lina, whose passion and fighting spirit were clearly evident despite her somber tone, said that it is time for members of her generation to speak out.
"What I believe drove us here was 40 years of silence," she said. "We need people to hear our voice."
She and others in the Syrian community, like the people of Kafranbel, are frustrated that the conflict has gone on for so long without any outside help.
"It's really depressing to see the world just watching what's going on," said Lina. "You expect more."
Most of the people involved hope that events like the exhibit of art from Kafranbel and other stories from behind the border will spur people into action, or at least make them more knowledgeable about the situation there.
"I wish that the amount of attention the crisis in Syria gets is proportionate to the crisis itself," said Sami Rahmani.
For Laila Basha, the powerful drawings made simply with nothing but markers on poster board were not just tools for awareness, but also symbols of pride.
"These came straight from Syria. They were done by Syrians. I can't wrap my head around it," she said. "It makes me really proud."
To see more photos of the art and people of Kafranbel, visit occupiedkafranbel.com. For more information on local Syria-related events, visit the Syrian American Council of Indianapolis' Facebook page.