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19/08/2017 - 07:00hs

Brazilians bring art and color to Syria schools

The Conexus project by Sheila Zago of Brazil saw two graffiti artists engage in artistic activities with refugees and people displaced by the Syrian war. Schools were painted and new actions are due in October.

São Paulo – Early this year, the Brazilian curator and educator Sheila Zago joined fellow countrymen and graffiti artists Zéh Palito and Rimon Guimarães on a trip to Lebanon and Syria. They brought art to people harmed by war, adding some color to their daily routines. She will be back in the Middle East next October, this time with new partners, in order to somehow make life better for refugees and people displaced by conflict through art-related activities.

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Brazilian artists adding some color to the Middle East

Nine years ago, Sheila created the Conexus art collective to bring people together through art. Her dream was to bring art to all people, especially those deprived from it. The work began with workshops and activities for underprivileged kids in Brazil, in tandem with organizations and social projects. In 2013, the native of Caxias do Sul decided to go global.

With a degree in Social Communication and over ten years’ experience as a film producer and art director, Sheila has been studying, researching, curating, and rolling out on her art and social-work projects around the world ever since she left Brazil. She reckons she has worked in about ten different countries – among them Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Syria – between standalone and Conexus-related work.

Last year, the Conexus project taught drawing, painting and photography lessons at Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where Sheila worked alongside Swedish artist Saadia Hussain. From March to May this year, the collective performed a number of activities throughout the Arab world featuring graffiti artists Zéh Palito and Rimon Guimarães.

The street artists created a mural in partnership with a local artist in Dubai, the UAE and undertook an artist residency in Beirut. After that, they painted a school in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. In Damascus, Syria, they painted a former school that’s become a shelter for displaced persons. “The kids and even the parents joined along for the painting,” Sheila told ANBA. They also involved children and teenagers in creative activities and painted an old bus with Lebanese artist Marie-joe Ayoub at the camp in Lebanon.

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Marie-joe Ayoub, Sheila Zago and their painted bus

In October and November, Sheila will be in the Arab countries again: she and Swedish artist Johanna Bratel will create an art piece on collective memories alongside Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The latter will be called upon to discuss their recollections of places in Syria and to create works of art based on those.

Conexus is also planning an action similar to the one from earlier this year, involving art and education activities in Damascus, Syria. The plan is to have war-displaced kids and teens do artistic work and to provide training so teachers can follow through with the activities. Sheila is looking for financial support to bring Brazilian artists along for this.

At Syrian refugee camps in Northern Lebanon, Sheila will offer photography and painting activities to children and teenagers in partnership with the non-governmental organization Mishwar. She will also teach jewelry and costume jewelry-making to teenagers and adults, which they can do to earn an income.

Sheila explains although many of these people have had some access to art before, an actual educational project is a first for them. “The results are instantaneous,” says the curator. She points out that these people are living in places they don’t like to be in. They are waiting, precariously so, and to bring art, education, color, joy and space for them to speak up and express how they feel has an impact on their lives overnight.

In addition to educational artistic activities, they play together, they sit down for tea, and Sheila claims an intense give-and-take happens between the locals and the visiting artists. “Something one mother said has stuck with me: we got back to listening to music and dancing.” The curator says she receives much more than she gives away. “It’s about sharing joy and happiness in a way that can only happen through art,” she says.

Sheila first focused on the Middle East in 2015, upon deciding to take a master’s program in Museums and Curation at the Qatari campus of University College London (UCL). While taking the course, she travelled around to see galleries and museums, including ones in several Arab countries, including Oman, Morocco, Bahrain and Jordan.

Right now, Sheila is working on an art-education project with teenagers at a United States museum. Her next stop will be Azerbaijan, where she’ll teach a workshop to local artists. After that she’ll go to Pakistan to curate an exhibit on a festival about peace. She’d like to do the same in Brazil and has tried a few times, but was unable to find financial support.

*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

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