Israeli Artist, Syrian Refugee Make Art Not War In San Diego
John picking up the saying goes, make art not war. KPBS City Heights reporter is about the Jewish Federation to help a Syrian refugee heal and we settle through art. Abdulaziz on sis through a box of shattered mirror shards. He is searching for the final shimmering touches to lead to a sculpture shaped like a grand tree. Stacked slabs in an old stone covered in mosaic tiles make the trunk and sticks of discarded would bet that every angle make the branches. It is a pop of color and spark in a trap -- in a drab barn. This tree has branches coming from it. They are not real but the tree has life. It has a spirit. Tees on talks of the sculptures life and spear but before he started work on the piece, friends say he was lacking a bit of both. He had just read from a refugee camp after fleeing war ravaged Syria with his wife and kids. Of course at the beginning we think about every step in what will happen in the next step. The next up for example was arriving at the airport in broke. Family from to go to Los Angeles parked and left Los Angeles to go to our home in San Diego. Every step of the way you think of the next step. I was told they weren't very stressed and very anxious from the move. That is Joshua Sherman with the nonprofit which type foundation which initiated the project behind the tree. Sherman said the organization sought images of the refugee crisis in Salzburg to act. Knowing that the juice came out of this terrible holocaust 70 years ago and wanting to say never again we saw this was the opportunity to really say, this is a Jewish issue to welcome a stranger and do what we can to save these lives. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in the Syrian war in millions displaced. 10,000 refugees resettled this past year in the US. San Diego resettled 788 more than any other city. Mostly in City Heights and El Cajon. Is really artist Raphael guarded -- a guided taste on -- Taysan Without this was the best to allow energy to come out again . That is being in a refugee camp in being able to decide for himself small things so here he couldn't decide if you wanted to do it like that, less color, more other. Use only materials that they found, tragedy to constructive the sculpture together. Sherman said they found ways to communicate when a translator was not on hand. They had different words in different sounds reached to a. Their countries Syria and Israel are in a state of war and have been for decades. Loan-loss so that was easy to overcome. Our countries enemy countries. The For Syrian human being that I ever met. After meeting him I would be happy to meet many more. In the end they've created an outstretched to tree with solid roots. Giving a tried eucalyptus another chance. At the connection to the dead tree and trying to connect to roots in a foreign country, this is the way I interpreted the word trying to relay, trying to get roots in a foreign country with no language for trying to believe some color could come out of it. Taysan said the experience has helped but not all of his troubles our comfort they are still learning the language, finding a job, caring for his four children. Two who are disabled. Is also overcoming some negativity associated with refugees. Of course at the beginning it was very difficult to adapt to the new life. We did not know anyone here. It can be hard to live here. Once he started to make the people and get used to the new atmosphere we started to feel comfortable and started to love living here. Everyone you meet you love forgives us like you have a new goal in life thanks to God. Leichtag hopes to repeat the process and possibly bring Taysan in as a paid consultant.
Hunched on the floor, Abdullah Taysan sifted through a box of shattered mirror shards. He was searching for the final shimmering touches to add to a sculpture that's twice as tall as he is. It's a tree crafted out of stacked slabs of a stump covered in mosaic tiles and branches made of wood sticks bent at every angle.
The artwork brings a pop of color and spark to a drab converted barn in Encinitas and gives Taysan, a Syrian refugee, a creative outlet. It's part of an experimental refugee artist-in-residence project intended to aid those arriving from the horrors of the country’s conflict.
"This tree is not real, but it has real branches and it looks alive and it has a spirit," Taysan said in Arabic during an interview this fall.
He talked of the tree's vitality, but friends say before he started work on the piece, Taysan himself was dispirited. He had recently arrived in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood from a Jordanian refugee camp. He had fled there with his wife and four kids to escape the fighting in Syria.
Joshua Sherman, a program manager for the nonprofit Leichtag Foundation, which hosted the art project, said the toll of Taysan's journey to San Diego was visible.
"I was told they were very stressed and anxious from the move," Sherman said.
Sherman said the organization was eager to help and had felt spurred to act after witnessing horrific images of the war and refugee crisis. Sherman specifically pointed to an infamous photo of a 3-year-old's body on a Turkish beach after his family attempted to flee Syria by boat.
"Knowing that the Jews came out of this terrible Holocaust 70 years ago, and wanting to say never again, we saw this was the opportunity to say, 'This is a Jewish issue to welcome the stranger and do what we can to save these lives,'" he said.
Since the war began in 2011, the United Nations reports hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced. Ten thousand refugees from Syria were resettled this past year in the U.S. San Diego accepted 788 — the most of any city mainly in City Heights and El Cajon.
While one of his exhibits was on display in San Diego, Israeli artist Raffael Lomas guided Taysan through the creative process.
"He’s facing so many challenges that I really felt that the best is to do is to allow energy come (to) out again after being in a refugee camp unable to decide for himself small things," Lomas said in a Skype interview. "So here he could decide if he wants to do it like this — less color, more color, this plant or the other plant — and not really trying to enter the meaning."
Using only materials they found inside a barn on the Leichtag property, Lomas and Taysan constructed the sculpture without speaking the same language. Leichtag's Sherman said they developed unique ways to communicate when a translator wasn’t on hand.
"Abdullah had only been here for a few weeks at that point and they needed to use nonverbal and hand communications," he said, and imitated the noise of a drill that the two would use to refer to the power tool.
Israeli artist Lomas said the two also overcame cultural barriers. Their countries, Syria and Israel, are technically in a state of war and have been for decades.
"Our countries are enemy countries. He was the first Syrian human being I met. After meeting him, I would be happy to meet many more," said Lomas, who was named a TED Fellow in 2010.
In the end, they created an outstretched tree with solid roots, giving a dried eucalyptus a second chance. It was unveiled in October as part of an exhibit with works produced by artists from Iraq and Russia. Taysan also added his own small tree to the display.
"I think the connection to a dead tree and trying to connect to roots in a foreign country, this is the way I interpret the work. Trying to relate or trying to put roots in a foreign country with no language trying to believe that some color could come out of it some vitality." Lomas said.
Taysan said the experience has helped make him comfortable in his new home, although not all of his troubles are gone. He’s still learning the language, searching for a job and caring for his children, two of whom are disabled but had never been diagnosed before coming to the U.S. He’s also overcoming the rhetoric associated with refugees, especially Muslims.
"Of course at the beginning it was very difficult to adapt to this new life, we didn’t know anyone here, everything was new to us but, we started to meet the people and get used to the new atmosphere we started to feel comfortable and started to love it all and love the people and it feels like you have a new goal in life," he said.
Leichtag hopes to repeat the project with more Syrian refugees and possibly bring Taysan in as a paid consultant. The organization also helps fund several other initiatives also focused on aiding Syrian refugees.