As the now 11-month old uprising continues in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the death toll continues to mount. The opposition stronghold Syrian city of Homs has faced continued shelling this week. Those who survive do so on dwindling food and water resources as a humanitarian crisis is growing. The Red Cross has tried to negotiate with the government for daily cease-fires in order to deliver aide in distressed areas. For local Syrian-American artist Sama Wareh, the harrowing situation in the country where many of her relatives live has motivated her to use her talents to help those in need.
“It really came out of a feeling of frustration and compassion for the people in Syria,” Wareh says, taking a break from hanging her pieces up at a Laguna Beach gallery. “As an artist, I can't just sit and watch. If there's something I can do I'm going to do it.” In that spirit, she turned turned to friend and fellow artist Art Guevara. He, in turn, introduced Wareh to Blue Jay Art Gallery owner Elena Bokareva who was all for the idea of hosting a benefit exhibit.
To that end, Wareh recruited artists Kinda Hibrawi and Mira Lisa for the fundraising event happening this Saturday. The suggested entry donation for the evening is $10 and proceeds from the door and sales will go to the United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund to help Syrians in need. The scope of the opening gala has grown to include Syrian food catering from Sahara Cafe, live music, folkloric dancing and a silent auction. Supporting artists are donating 30% of their sales and Wareh herself is giving all of her commission to the cause. The Costa Mesa-based artist had an original goal of $10,000, but since she participated in a recent Syria fundraiser auctioning off a live painting piece and collecting lobby sales totaling over $7,000, she's upping the ante to $15,000.
The exhibit will continue from March 1st to April 5th in order to help her meet that aspiration.
As an artist, Wareh's paintings incorporate elements of Syrian culture. “A lot of my inspiration is drawn from nature, but also from my visits to Syria. You'll also see a lot Arabic calligraphy,” she says. “It ties nature, my love for the environment, my Syrian roots, and my profound experience being with my uncle there.” Before working as a traveling naturalist at the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach, she spent time with her now deceased uncle who was a holistic healer and taught her about nature. Wareh sees a connection between Native American and Bedouin peoples and incorporates symbolism from both into her art.
Putting her talents in service of helping those in Syria during perilous times worried both Wareh and her mother. “Coming at it from a humanitarian angle, I'm not sending money to the revolution fighters, I'm sending it to people in the refugee camps,” she says. Still, the artist recalled having nightmares of her family in Syria being beaten up by the government and phoned them after the sleepless night. On the other side of the line, her cousin reassured her, gave his blessing for her activism and encouraged her to do more.
“You don't have time to think about what's not going to work,” she says reaffirmed in her commitment, “you just have to do whatever you can.”
The UN-nited Artist Association exhibit's preview gala opens Saturday, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. at Blue Jay Art Gallery, 352 North Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. www.bluejayartgallery.com. $10 suggested donation.