Imagining a New Life: FPS Shares Art Among Friends
Under way for more than a year at Swarthmore College, the Friends, Peace and Sanctuary project is about to roll out to a wider world with three public events.
The seed of the program was sown in the Swarthmore’s libraries. College Librarian Peggy Seiden was thinking about the Swarthmore Peace Library’s Trocmé Collection, and perceived connections between the international refugee crisis of the past decades and the Jewish diaspora chronicled in the papers of Christian minister Andre Trocmé and his wife Magda (who protected French Jews during World War II).
“The original thought,” Seiden said, “was to bring the collections to bear upon these projects around books. But the project has gone beyond what I had hoped.” Seiden approached Katie Price of Swarthmore’s Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. Appropriately given its library beginnings, books and printing became both a medium and a metaphor for the creative endeavors of the project that would soon be constituted as Friends, Peace and Sanctuary.
Katie Price said, “We wanted to connect to the living population of refugees in Philadelphia. Together we came up with this idea to bring in book artists — who hand-make books — to work with Syrian and Iranian refugees to co-make new works, works that were meant to get the community to think about the relationship between history and lived experience.
“We brought in five book artists and commissioned them to create new works. They led workshops with about 15 refugees and families. They’ve been making art, talking and learning about each other for about the last year and a half. The exhibitions that open Friday will be the culmination of all that work. In the summer, there will be three exhibition sites in Philadelphia, then it will travel to New York.”
Gratifyingly to the organizers, many of the new Philadelphians (who yearn to transcend the word refugee) are continuing to make art at The Clay Studio and other spaces in the city, carrying forward their practice. Their American FPS collaborators, too, have broken through boundaries, Seiden said.
“We looked to engage artists in a social practice — art in activism and social justice — but it’s gone further. We are creating community and increasing our circle of friends.”
FPS events this coming week include:
Thursday, March 28, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema, four panelists will discuss “Art, History, Displacement.” Moderated by Nora Elmarzouky, the panel includes Erik Ruin, Artist with Friends, Peace & Sanctuary; Osman Balkan, Visiting Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College; Rona Buchalter, Director of Refugee Programming and Planning from HIAS Pennsylvania, and Yaroub Al-Obaidi, Community Liaison Friends, Peace & Sanctuary. A reception follows at LPAC.
Friday, March 29, from 4 to 8 p.m: McCabe Library atrium will host the opening of an exhibition featuring commissioned works by book artists Islam Aly, Maureen Cummins, Erik Ruin, Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist. These will be shown alongside works by the project’s Syrian and Iraqi collaborators and archival material from Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library and Peace Collections. After the opening, all are invited to celebrate the FPS collaborations at a communal dinner at Upper Tarble of Clothier Hall, catered by Aria Mediterranean Cuisine. Reserve at https://bit.ly/FPSDinner.
Saturday, March 30, from noon to 6 p.m., Swarthmore College’s Science Center hosts an all-ages exploration of the people, food, and art at the heart of the FPS. Sample Syrian and Iraqi treats, make art and learn techniques, talk with artists and collaborators, and experience the premiere of a musical work by Julius al-Masry and Erik Ruin.