Paris atelier provides safe haven for exiled artists

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Paris, whose bohemian culture attracted some of the world’s finest painters at the turn of the 20th century, is opening its doors to a new wave of talent, driven its way this time by war and poverty.

Lina Aljijakli, a 35-year-old Syrian born in the now war-ravaged city of Hama, is one of a record number of immigrants seeking asylum in France. Her art is being exhibited at the grand Palais Royal along with works by 14 other exiled artists.

She said freedom of expression was compromised in Syria, where a seven-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions from their homes.

“You never knew what could happen. You could get arrested, get killed,” Aljijakli told Reuters TV.

A large studio in Paris’ 18th arrondissement has become a dedicated workspace for some 150 exiled artists from countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran. It has provided Aljijakli with a sanctuary from where she can express her emotions on canvas.

Syrian artist Lina Aljijakli shows her paintings in the Atelier for Artists in Exile in Paris, France, January 31, 2018. /Reuters Photo

One of her works on display in the former royal palace shows faces of women and children outlined against a blue background.

The painting represents the suffering of Syrian women imprisoned and separated from their children, she says, of women hurt by aerial bombardments and of women who make the perilous sea-crossing in search of safety.

Judith Depaule, who runs the atelier, sees the artists as the latest chapter in the artistic history of a city that gave rise to Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Cubism, and is synonymous with artists from Picasso and Van Gogh to Hemingway and Beckett.

“So it’s about time that tradition is renewed,” Depaule said. “Art and French culture have a lot to learn from this melting pot, from this contribution from other cultures.”

Another artist is Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Hijazi. Aged 29, he applauded the opportunity Paris has provided but wants to be known for more than just his portrayal of war.

“My hope is … to tell the world that we are able to produce work not simply because we have a war or a revolt or a conflict or fighting.”

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