BERLIN–From 20 October to 5 November, the Goethe-Institut played host to around 100 Syrian artists in exile in an exhibition exploring themes of home, displacement and expulsion. The exhibition takes place in an abandoned Berlin shop, a temporary makeshift home for the Damascus outpost of the Goethe-Institut that, like millions of other Syrians, have been displaced due to the ongoing civil war.

The project aims to “allow the voices of artists in exile to be heard,” said Johannes Ebert, general secretary of the Goethe-Institut, at a press conference marking the opening of the exhibition.
Damascus | In Exile presents the work of a diverse group of filmmakers and artists, writers, musicians and curators. Kinan Azmeh, for example, delivered an inspirational concert combining ska and jazz with classical Arab elements.

In conversation with art critic Hanno Rauterberg, the Syrian playwright and director Anis Hamdoun, discussed social responsibility with respect to contemporary art in recognizing the refugee crisis.

The program also featured a compelling series of films presenting an ambitious and encyclopedic overview of Syrian cinema before the revolution. For the exhibition, curator Nasan Tur invited young Syrian artists to take over the building’s entire 70m², in a sprawling exhibition that spoke at once to the themes of exile, but also of hope that someday these artists will be able to return home.

The exhibition comes at a bittersweet moment for the Goethe-Institut, which in 2012 was forced to close its Damascus location due to ongoing security threats. Founded in 1955, the Goethe-Institut Damascus exemplified the numerous benefits of cultural and educational exchange. It was one of the first German cultural institutes worldwide set up in an effort to boost diplomacy, understanding and peace between the two countries.

With no diplomatic end in sight to the nearly five year long civil war in Syria, perhaps it can be through fruitful acts of cultural and educational exchange, such as that on view in Damascus | In Exile, that new pathways of shared co-existence, peace and community building through art can be imagined.

Goethe-Institut Damascus – In Exile, 20 October to 5 November 2016, various locations.