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Capturing Our Stories: An Exhibition of Syrian Children’s Photography

We read and hear the stories of refugees coming to Canada from the perspective of the media and in the news, but what to do they want to say about their own lives and their own experiences?

This summer, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement partnered with the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Moving Ahead Program (MAP) to deliver a series of photography workshops to young Syrian children who recently arrived in Vancouver as refugees.  The goal of the project was to create story-telling space to empower the children to take hold over the narratives that define them. MAP supported children and parents during the entire process, from enrolment till the opening night of the exhibit. The project aimed at giving the children tools and information to explore the use of imagery and artistic expression to tell the stories of their lives.

“Mainstream interest in refugee lives comes with a long list of prescribed fantasies about their experiences,” noted Capturing Our Stories’ curator and organizer Shawk Alani in an interview with rabble.ca. “Creating a space where kids have agency to actualize their imagination on their own terms felt like the most important things to try to do.” Alani co-facilitated the photography workshops with photographer and engineer Nawar Tamawi. A recent immigrant to Canada himself, Tamawi is a street photographer well known for his Instagram account, which attempts to fight stereotypical views and showcase “the beauty of Iraq.”

The first two workshops covered some of the basics of photography, including framing, angles, lighting, exposure, subject, distance, and depth of field. After the second session, each of the students were provided with their own disposable film camera with 27-exposures, and had a two-week window to capture images of their lives. Thereafter they reconvened for a session on art show curation, where Alani and Tamawi were joined by photographer Sara McIntyre and designer Meego Yassin. The instructors helped the children identify themes and relationships within the photographs. During this final workshop the children each selected four images for the exhibit. All three workshops were held on campus.

The opening of Capturing Our Stories at the Interurban Art Gallery on August 31 was well attended, and most of the artists were in attendance — proudly showing off their work, posing for photos, and even signing autographs.

Media Coverage of Capturing Our Stories
More than just refugees: Syrian kids tell their stories their way, CBC (article and audio)
SFU Photography Summer School, SFU News (video)
With Cameras in Hand, Young Syrian Refugees Learn Storytelling, The Tyee (article)
Vancouver summer camp empowers Syrian children to tell their own stories, however they want to tell them, rabble.ca (article and photo gallery)
Sense of Place with Minelle Mahtani – Syrian Photography Exhibit, Roundhouse Radio (audio)