Edited by: Ben Quilty
Forward by: Richard Flanagan
I have decided to classify this as an ‘Art Review’ even though it is in the format of a book: it mainly consists of reproduced images. It’s an extremely important work.
It is a Penguin edition, with proceeds from the book directly supporting World Vision’s Child Friendly Spaces, early childhood and basic education projects in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
The pictures in the book have been gathered by the Australian artist Ben Quilty.
Quilty, born in 1973, lives and works in Robertson, New South Wales. He has a Bachelor of Visual Arts in Painting from Sydney College of the Arts at Sydney University. He also has a B.A. from Western Sydney University. His Awards include the 2014 Prudential Eye Award, 2011 Archibald Prize and the 2009 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. He was the official war artist in Afghanistan in 2011 and is known as a social commentator. Probably he is best known for his nurturing friendship with convicted drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran. He mounted a fierce but futile campaign to save him from the Indonesian firing squad. His work has been acquired by leading galleries around Australia.
In the Introduction to the Drawings, Quilty describes stopping at a transit station halfway across Serbia with his friend Richard Flanagan. He states, ‘Richard and I had followed this river of Syria’s people and all were on a journey of escape, fleeing unimaginable horror, men in black clothes, murderous men, murderous civil war and the end of their homeland. And their destination was thousands of kilometres north in a direction none had ever imagined they would travel, to a future utterly unknown.’ There were young men, eyes blank, full of shock, profound loss. Richard ushered the men and their wives to a quiet corner. He wrote; they shared stories and cried.
Quilty attended to the children. He gestured to them to draw. So they did. Some lost interest. One little girl didn’t stop drawing, self-possessed in her determination. She was six, her little body tucked into a large, bright pink parka. I asked her to draw her home for me. ‘Heba looked into my eyes for a fleeting but intense second, and I saw a seriousness that no six-year old should understand.’ ‘That day Heba made me realise how imperative it is for the world to see her drawing, for the world to see drawings by every child who has survived the Syrian disaster.
‘Children who have given their art and their voice to this book are living in informal refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon with more than a million Syrian refugees in that valley alone. The drawings that are untitled and anonymous were carried from dangerous war zones where parents feared that a simple child’s name would bring evil to their doorstep.
Quilty states ‘this book is for Heba, for her future, for the empathy she deserves from every human on my planet who is luckier than she is. It is a book filled with the truest international language, and it is a language that we big people need to listen to closely and seriously.
In his forward to the book, Richard Flanagan, the award-winning Australian novelist (who won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for ‘The Narrow Road in the Deep North’) and activist states, ‘I can think of few more damning testaments to both the horror of war, and the enduring damage it has done to all who survived it, then these simple images. ‘That we Australians, as a nation, have done almost nothing to help these children and their families is disturbing. As to how we might reconcile our sense of ourselves as a good people with these pictures of horror is a question no humane Australian can feel proud in answering. ‘The Syrian war has done many terrible things. It has taken away so many and so much. But it did not take away our hearts. We alone did that ourselves. We chose not to look. As Ai Weiwei said ‘What more is there to say?’
If you do not do one more thing in your lifetime, do this, buy the book! It is available nationwide and online.