Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

A SoCal art exhibit presents Syria in a different light

by Alex Cohen and Monica Bushman | Take Two®

Dania Alkouli and Maria Khani, co-curators of "A Country Called Syria." Monica Bushman / KPCC

Syria is in the news a fair amount these days.

Often the stories are about the ongoing war there, the fight against ISIS, or the refugee crisis. While those topics are certainly important, they don't present a full picture of Syria and the Syrian people.

Here in Southern California, at Cal State Fullerton's Pollak Library, a cultural exhibition aims to expand visitors' understanding of Syria.

"A Country Called Syria" is co-curated by Dania Alkhouli, a poet and writer based in Orange County, and her mother Maria Khani, an educator and senior Muslim chaplain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

While growing up in Orange County, Alkhouli says, her friends had a lot of misconceptions about Syria. They would ask her if her family rode camels or lived in tents. "I'm like, no, we have malls and taxis and a bunch of other things."

In part, it was that kind of cultural confusion that led Alkhouli and Khani to create the exhibit.

"My mother and I were thinking, a year after the whole Syrian revolution started, what can we do to get people to know Syria, more than what they're seeing in the media, more than what they've stereotyped it as," Alkhouli says. "So we decided we wanted to put something together that would show them the culture of Syria, and what better way [to do that than with] art and history."

What started with a couple of display tables at the Huntington Beach Public Library, over the years grew into a collection of almost 500 pieces. They include musical instruments, traditional clothing, glass art and textiles.

Maria Khani says the exhibit is also designed with Syrians living in America in mind, to provide them with a reminder of the places they remember that now have been damaged or destroyed.

"I want to bring something close to the heart of the Syrian people here. That they can bring their kids and talk about this is where we come from, this is where your grandma grew up, or where I used to go," Khani says. "Presenting these items is connecting this generation and the future generation with the history that probably is gone now, unfortunately."

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.

"A Country Called Syria" is currently on display at Cal State Fullerton through December 21st. Admission is free. More information on the exhibit and the "After Spring" documentary film screening on December 4th is available here.


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