Syria Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart

Oct 13 – Jan 13, 2019

Brooklyn Museum


Syria, Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart recounts the changing stories of refugees in Syria over time – then and now – and places their differing experiences, a century apart, in a global context. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Syria gave shelter to refugees from Russia – ethnic Circassians, displaced by the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. Today, a new generation of refugees seeks to escape Syria itself, after the regime of Bashar al-Assad used violence to put down pro-democracy protests and civil war broke out in 2011.

The exhibition presents thirteenth-century Ayyubid ceramics that were unearthed in Raqqa, Syria, by the Circassian refugees, who were searching for bricks to build homes. The ceramics are drawn from our collection and include vases, jugs, bowls, and oil lamps.

The plight of current-day Syrian refugees is the focus of three contemporary artists whose work is also on view. Ginane Makki Bacho draws on her experience of civil war in Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis in the region. Issam Kourbaj engages the ordeal endured by Syrians attempting to escape by sea. Mohamad Hafez alludes to the traumas refugees carry with them, and the homes they left behind. Each of them tells a different story, but, in the end, each calls upon our common humanity for compassionate attention to refugees' precarious situation worldwide.

Curated by Ayşin Yoltar-Yıldırım, Hagop Kevorkian Associate Curator of Islamic Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Ayşin Yoltar-Yıldırım joined Brooklyn Museum in 2017 from the Harvard Art Museums, where she was the Assistant Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art since 2013. At Harvard she worked toward the reinstallation of the new Islamic and Later Indian Art galleries, which opened in 2014. Yoltar-Yıldırım received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Earlier in her career she was a Fellow and Research Assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and conducted extensive research on a variety of subjects through several fellowships and grants. Yoltar-Yıldırım has taught courses on the history of Islamic art in both the United States and her native Turkey. She is the author of a handbook on Ottoman decorative arts as well as several articles on the arts of the book and the history of Islamic collections.

A Syrian artist and architect, Mohamad Hafez was born in Damascus and raised in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and educated in the Midwestern United States. Expressing the juxtaposition of East and West within him, Hafez’s art reflects the political turmoil in the Middle East through the compilation of found objects, paint and scrap metal.

Issam Kourbaj was born in Syria and has a background in fine art, architecture and theatre design, having trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and at Wimbledon School of Art (London). Since 1990, he has lived and worked in Cambridge, eventually becoming an Artist in Residence at Christ’s College where he was a Bye-Fellow from 2007–2011 and is now a Lector in Art. His work often relates to the Syrian crisis, reflecting on the destruction of his cultural heritage. Often collaborative, his multi-disciplinary work intersects with other creative science and humanity disciplines. Widely exhibited and collected, in 2008, a collection of his sketches Sound Palimpsest was acquired by the British Museum.

Born in Beirut, Ginane Makki Bacho received a master of fine arts in printmaking and painting from Pratt Institute, New York, and a bachelor of fine arts from the Lebanese American University, Beirut. Her work is found in a number of public and private collections including the Centre Culturel Francais, Beirut, the Museum of Digne les Bains, Cabo Frio Museum, Rio de Janeiro, the Arab League, Washington DC, the Hariri Foundation, Washington DC, and the Biblioteca Alexandria, in Alexandria. She participated in many group exhibitions and held many individual exhibitions, especially in Beirut, Kuwait, and Alexandria.