Syrian Mother & Daughter Connect to Their Lost Home Through Art
KITCHENER — The walls of the Al Hariri family’s home are adorned with their artwork. The vibrant paintings are inspired by memories of Syria, the war-torn home this family was forced to flee.
A lifetime of artwork made by Moteaa Al Hariri is now lost, but the former art teacher continues to create more art in her new home in Kitchener.
“I always try to relate my art to Syria,” Moteaa says in Arabic, as her daughter, Abeer, translates.
A shared love of art is what prompted an Orillia artist to privately sponsor the Al Hariri family almost three years ago. They were living in Jordan as refugees at the time, unable to find sustainable work or a sense of belonging.
After a few months in Orillia, Abeer wanted to pursue a career involving art, so the family — including her mother and her two younger brothers — moved to Kitchener last year, so she could attend Conestoga College’s new animation program. Since arriving in the region the Al Hariris have immersed themselves in the local arts community.
Mother and daughter made and sold postcards and traditional Syrian jewelry at a local neighbourhood art walk and they volunteered their skills in a handful of community art projects.
For them, creating art is a way to connect with the country they were forced to leave behind.
So they create with Syria in mind; from glittery scenes painted on birchbark to colourful dioramas featuring little dolls clad in traditional Syrian garb.
“The Arab world was famous for art, but now they don’t care about art anymore,” Abeer says.
“Culture is about art.”
Abeer remembers watching, as a child, her mother paint landscapes and elaborate scenes. Moteaa spent her days and nights painting at their countryside home in Al Hirak. Abeer fondly recalls the rich smell of oil paints.
“We used to love it,” Abeer says. “We all learned from her.”
It wasn’t easy for Moteaa to pursue a career in fine art in 1980s Syria. She lived in a small village at a time when women were discouraged from pursuing further education and careers.
But Moteaa insisted and her open-minded father obliged. She studied fine art at Damascus University, has had her work shown at Syrian galleries and exhibitions and eventually became an art teacher.
Abeer and her older sister, who currently lives in Jordan with her family, lived in Damascus when violence erupted in the southern Syrian village their family lived in. Her mother and brothers moved to Damascus for safety, but soon even that city — the country’s capital — became rife with conflict.
“It wasn’t safe anymore and our home in our village was destroyed,” Abeer says, so the family fled to Jordan in 2012, where they faced even more hardship.
“As a refugee you feel like everyone is against you,” Abeer recalls. “We were made to feel like this was not our country. We had to go somewhere with opportunities.”
Now Abeer is almost finished her college program and hopes to work at a local animation studio where she occasionally freelances. Her brothers also hope to pursue careers in digital art and graphic design.
Moteaa is taking English classes so she can sell and display her artwork in local galleries. Abeer says she is always on the lookout for more opportunities for her mother to create and display her art.
“It’s who she is. It is a part of her personality.”