'Syrian Elsewhere' by Rula Asad, Syria
To kick off the CrossCulture Tour, Syrian journalist Rula Asad and fine art photographer Mohan Dehne present a week-long exhibition looking at the sense of identity of Syrian refugees in Europe. 20 photographic portraits and video interviews describe people's experiences in their new surroundings and ask them about their loyalties to Syria, their former home. The exhibition is being run in conjunction with the Freiburg-based charity AMICA e. V. Entry is free. Guided tours are available for schools in the mornings, by appointment.
Rula Asad is one of the founders and managing director of the Syrian Female Journalists Network (SFJN) which she initiated in 2012. SFJN is a non-profit initiative that trains journalists and supports their role in local media. Rula Asad studied journalism at Damascus University and now works as a freelance journalist. She writes about women and human rights, as well as culture and civil society in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The CrossCulture Programme enabled her to come to Europe for the first time, where she worked for the women’s rights organization AMICA e.V. and Radio Dreyeckland in Freiburg. "Syrian Elsewhere" is her very personal contribution to the CrossCulture Tour. It all started with reflections on questions of identity: 'Who am I?', 'Which idendity do I have today?' and 'Which culture do I belong to?' Her project entails a series of photographs and video interviews with Syrians, who were able to find refuge in different European countries.
Meeting Rula & Mohan, the initiators of "Syrian Elsewhere"
ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen): When and how did you come up with the idea of realizing "Syrian Elsewhere"?
Mohan: It started with the Syrian revolution in 2011. I interviewed people in Damascus about their opinions on the political situation in Syria. I was especially interested in whether they could see any solutions to the dilemma.
Rula: I got more involved in the issue of Syrians abroad in 2012 when I was reporting on the situation in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey as a journalist. Later I also worked as volunteer in a refugee camp in the Netherlands, and that was when questions about Syrians’ culture in new societies started to come up. Until 2014, when the "Syrian Elsewhere" project started as it is today, we were both personally involved in the issue, and we want to know how the Syrian identity will change!
ifa: How did you choose and find the people that you’ve finally interviewed and portrayed?
Rula/Mohan: In the beginning, we randomly interviewed Syrians we met in different occasions. Later we looked back to what we had and started to look for diversity in our choice of interviewees in order to represent the Syrian society as broadly as we could. It was not an easy job to do, because some people were afraid to talk, others living far away. Finally, after six years of working on the project in different ways, we managed to have a group of Syrians in different European counties with different backgrounds, age, education and faith. We relied a lot on our network and social media for this.
ifa: Please tell us about the emotional aspect of your project. As you are both Syrians in exile, I am certain that it wasn’t easy to listen to and document all the stories and emotions. How did you cope with that?
Rula/Mohan: It was overwhelming. Some of them told us a lot about their own dramatic experiences and perceptions, especially the ones who had to cross the sea. We tried to deal with it professionally, but after the interview we both got very emotional, and it took us a couple of days to be able to work on the next interviews.
ifa: How did the people you talked to generally react to your project idea?
Rula/Mohan: They were charmed by our project, but it was also a shocking question for some as they had never thought about it, never thought about their identity! It was especially difficult for those with children when it came to the question of how they will tell their children about the Syrian identity in the future.