May 10, 2018 - 10:15am
Dema Maksod’s exhibit on the fifth floor of the Library opens May 15
A well-known Syrian painter who is using studio space in Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Art and Design Department will display her work in the VIU Library this summer.
In 2014, Dema Maksod lost everything when a bomb fell on her home in Damascus.
The blast destroyed everything she owned, including all her paintings. Afterwards, Maksod isolated herself in her family’s house and turned to her art.
She was already upset by what civil war was doing to her country; now that it had literally hit home for her, the canvas become an outlet for her anger and frustration, and her art started to change dramatically. She started using different objects as paintbrushes to better express her feelings. A cedar branch helped her throw fury into the painting, and layers of paint conveyed the depth of her frustration with what was going on around her.
“I started seeing a different beauty in my paintings,” says Maksod, who recently settled in Nanaimo and is now a VIU English as a Second Language (ESL) student. “I changed the way I looked at art and it led me along a lot of other career paths that I didn’t know about before.”
Maksod’s new style of art attracted lots of attention and was used in exhibits representing Syria both at home and abroad. However, the civil war caused a massive disruption in the Syrian art community and in 2016 she moved to Lebanon to continue her work. The Lebanese government used her art in cultural shows and during one festival, the Al Jazeera Media Network filmed her painting for a live television show.
Despite this success, life in Lebanon was hard. The country has absorbed more than a million Syrian refugees in recent years and finding work was a huge challenge. Living conditions for the refuges were also harsh. In late 2017, she arrived in Nanaimo thanks to the support of a local private sponsorship group.
Eva Manly, a member of the sponsorship group and now a close personal friend of Maksod’s, learned that Maksod was a painter and called Gregory Ball, Chair of the Visual Arts department, to arrange a tour and build a connection with VIU.
“This is a painter whose artwork is in private collections throughout Europe and the Middle East and she arrived here basically starting over, with no supplies or studio space to do her art,” says Manly.
For Ball, offering her studio space in the department – with the blessing and support of Dr. Ross MacKay, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities – was a natural fit. He says students and faculty alike have had the chance to get to know her and hear her story of hardship and determination, as well as view her exceptional paintings.
“We hope to continue this relationship with Dema in the future, whether it’s having her continue to paint in our studio space or hosting other exhibitions or collaborations,” says Ball.
MacKay says this type of support is what the Arts and Humanities are all about.
“It’s given us a rich inter-cultural connection and it brings home to us that art can be a unifying force in a troubled world,” he says. “She came here humbly, simply looking for a place to do her art, and it turns out that she’s giving the gift to us. Her art is breathtaking.”
Maksod’s work focuses on women caught in the clutches of the turmoil caused by war. In her paintings, the women are strong, angry and exhausted from carrying the burden of supporting their families through challenging times. She often incorporates animals to symbolize human emotions and needs.
People are welcome to view her artwork on the fifth floor of the VIU Library this summer. At a special opening event on Tuesday, May 15 from 2-4 pm on the fifth floor, people will have the chance to meet Maksod.
For more information about Visual Arts education at VIU, visit Art and Design.
Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University