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Student Focus: Donnelly Brings Syrian Exhibition to World Bank, Showcases Displaced and Emerging Artists

by Robert Abare '13
Paige Donnelly
(l-r) Paige Donnelly ’14 attended the Washington, D.C., opening of “Syrian Crisis: The Art of Resilience” with Raghad Mardini, the founder of Art Residence Aley in Beirut.

Paige Donnelly '14 has helped to orchestrate an exhibition of Syrian art on view at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C., through May 9. Envisioned during Donnelly's study abroad experience last winter in Lebanon, "Syrian Crisis: The Art of Resilience" showcases work of Syrian artists displaced by the country's civil war.

With funding from a Dean Rusk International Studies program travel grant, Donnelly traveled to Beirut where she studied the life and works of displaced Syrian artists through the organization Art Residence Aley, which supports emerging Syrian artists displaced from their home country by the civil war. Artists live and work at Aley for one month, then pay for their residency by leaving the organization one work of their art.

Donnelly said she felt privileged to meet young artists who had survived harrowing circumstances. "It was very eye-opening to meet artists who were the same age as me, but who had already experienced and lost so much," she said.

Fadi Al Hamwi, a 27-year-old painter and sculptor from Damascus, was among the artists Donnelly met through Aley. Al Hamwi created an installation for a Beirut museum titled "To whom it may concern." The installation allowed viewers to enter a small room filled with cement rubble and view an image of themselves on a small television screen. Al Hamwi wanted viewers of the installation to momentarily experience how it felt to be a victim of war.

During her visit, a string of car bombings shook Beirut. Justifiably worried, Donnelly's father asked her to contact his colleagues at the World Bank's Beirut office to form an emergency plan. Donnelly complied, and suggested to employees she met that the office host an exhibit of works by artists working at Aley.

Telling the Story

Donnelly said a prominent international organization like the World Bank is well-suited to educate the public about the crisis in Syria. "It's often difficult for the public to connect with conflicts like the Syrian civil war because they get lost in the numbers of refugees or numbers of dead," Donnelly said. ‘Syrian Crisis: The Art of Resilience' helps the public see the human impact of this conflict through the eyes of artists."

The World Bank's Beirut office approved Donnelly's idea, and she helped Aley put together the exhibition. After a successful showing in Beirut, the World Bank headquarters decided to bring the exhibit to Washington, D.C.

The exhibition opened at the World Bank Headquarters on April 9 with a panel discussion of speakers who included President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, Vice President of the World Bank for the Middle East and North Africa Inger Andersen, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Chris Gunness, founder of Art Residence Aley Raghad Mardini, and founder of The Syria Report Jihad Yazigi. Laura Trevelyan, an anchor with BBC World News America, moderated the panel.

Donnelly attended the opening of "The Art of Resilience" and helped the World Bank's publicity team promote it with advertising and social media work. Donnelly also wrote a post for the World Bank's blog about her experiences working for Aley and meeting displaced Syrian during her stay in Beirut.

One of Donnelly's favorite works in the exhibit was "Standing Alone," by Kevork Mourad. It depicts a long scroll of parchment painted in flowing black brushstrokes with the image of prostrate bodies. A single man and horse stands among the carnage. Donnelly said of the piece, "It seemed to communicate that, no matter how severe a crisis may be, at least one person will survive to tell the story."

A political science major and Arabic minor from Chevy Chase, Md., Donnelly intends to return to Beirut after graduation to work for Aley full-time, continuing her support of displaced Syrian artists and helping broadcast their message to the global community.