“la classe” September 2015
The “Syrian” Art Project – A Portrait Collection of Syrian and Swiss Children
The idea to work on a Syrian project or rather on the Refugee crises that erupted because of it, was vibrating through me all along 2014. After working on a project in Kyiv focusing on Russian-Ukrainian Mothers, it was clear to me that this form of “à jour-art” (a mix of Art and Journalism) is something that I want to follow. There was something about seeing or sensing my models in their own reality where they live, in their “Now”, that I felt very attracted to.
It made me adjust and level myself to their state and made me as I have understood it a better artist. I had to listen.
2015 Began for me personally on a good note, I had three shows booked and I was negotiating an Art-project in Belarus (the Pink Mark). At the same time, the Refugee crisis was at its height, and on the Greek shores and Hungarian border the suffering became even more visible than before. In the back of my head, I planted the idea to do something but I didn’t have a clear plan about it.
It wasn’t until my biggest show of that year, which was filled with some celebrities and the general richness of Zurich that I met Aicha Baakili and after a short talk with her, we found the common ground that created the premise for the “la clase” Project.
The concept for the project was conceived very fast and after Aicha`s reediness to finance it we set up a date for us to fly to the Turkish-Syrian border.
As with most of my art projects, it was a dive into cold water. The magnitude of the topic at hand was overwhelming but portraying was very new territory for me that I never worked on. The fact that I just finished a very intense month’s stay in Minsk, Belarus for “The Pink Mark” didn’t help much. I was raw, edgy, and shanked but at the same time also very clear and sober.
We got in contact with acquaintances of Aicha`s in the border town of Sulinurfa (Urfa) that would help on our quest. For the next 10 days, we found our way to refuge camps, slums, and roadsides between the city and the blurry Syrian border. We had talks and encounters but mainly I did what I came to do, portray Refugee children.
Introduction of the problem to be explored
My family’s history is woven with stories of forceful immigration and deportation. My grandmother’s family had to seek refuge in Ottoman Palestine because of the ever-occurring pogroms in White Russia, and my grandfather’s family left Poland for the USA for economic reasons he on the other hand was seeking refuge in Palestine in the early 20s. He on the other hand like my father (and to some extent me too) was either making Palestinians refugees or keeping them in that state
My grandmother used to tell stories about the mass deportation that the Turkish army organized for the Jewish population of young Tel Aviv to the north of the country.
Her childhood stories were never bad in some way, the soldiers beat up her father with all the other community leaders and they did take two brothers of hers to fight on their side, it was cold and they did gather undigested corn from the horse’s manure to roast and eat.
But her stories were always filled with small anecdotes about her sister’s misshapes about one of her brothers that was so pale and thin that the Turks were afraid to come to their hut (what saved her other brother, she had 7). There was no hate or grudge or fear just childhood memories.
When hearing these stories in my childhood a part of me wanted to be the same as her in her childhood, a refugee.
Children adapt, children forgive, and stories and pictures from the Warsaw ghetto showed children paling till the bitter end, even child soldiers when their guns are taken from them, are children and will sometime laugh and play. A child is always a child; it is the stories of the grownups that make him hungry, abused, loved, embraced, and fed.
This is the center of “la classe” a child without a story and no origin; a refugee in a grownup world.
The installation would be a collection of children’s portraits made with Syrian children in a refugee camp and with children from Switzerland; the portraits will be done very simply with black pen on A4 paper and will be framed in a plain manner.
They will be installed on a wall as one group as if belonging to one class.
Interview about the Project
Aicha Baakili; Daniel how did you come up with the “la classe” concept?
Daniel Eisenhut; The concept as such came about through our conversations; about my previous projects (in Minsk and Kyiv) and about your charity/volunteer work in the Middle East. But there follows a very fundamental principle for me and my work; we all carry different stories with us and we each carry this “burden” in our own individual way, but in the end, we are all the same.
AB; Why do you actually do such projects?
DE; I don’t have a concrete answer, but I often follow my deepest fears, for example in the “la classe” project; I am afraid of being a refugee, and often I have nightmares where I have to rescue my sister’s children from refugee camps. In addition, there is a very clear fear that results directly from this current refugee crisis.
AB; why do you follow your fear
DE; The way I see it, whether I like it or not, fear is the main motivator of human beings. Because fear isn’t exactly something I want to look at personally, I learned early on to look at it the more closely I gain my personal freedom.
AB; I’m an Arab and you’re Israeli how do you think this project influences you?
DE; Our cultural differences are less important, but our cultural similarities, directly and indirectly, give the “la classe” project it’s grounding.
Perhaps this very symbolic fact only underscores the project; it’s not about nations, flags, cultures, or similar nonsense, it’s about people, about children, quite simply.
AB; For the “la classe” project you chose very simple materials (pen on A4 paper), why?
DE; My work is basically an attempt to get to the heart of things. Especially when it comes to charged topics such as gay rights in Belarus, as in my previous project, or refugee children in the middle of a refugee crisis, even the slightest overstimulation can blur the whole thing.
Added to this is the practical consideration that in the “la class” project I could not know where and in what conditions I will work, with these materials I can react very quickly and adapt to the situation.
AB; You often miss working with the children very badly, why?
DE; The work as such is easy I just do what I’ve always wanted to do I draw people. What I completely underestimated is that these children are almost without exception traumatized, some more, some less. I know PTSD from the faces of adult friends and acquaintances in Israel where it’s relatively common, but here it’s children who bear the marks of trauma on their faces.
When I draw people I try to paint them as they are in front of me and try to be as neutral as possible. This means that I often see things that are not really funny to me.
AB; How does that affect the pictures?
DE; To my surprise, the pictures are often very naive, almost kitsch, you can see that they are about children, but they look very old.