The Euphrates Storyteller shares his tale in Grande Prairie

The Art Gallery of Grande Prairie’s (AGGP) latest exhibition, The Euphrates Storyteller, explores the life of its Aboud Salman through his art.

Salman is a refugee from Syria; he was forced to leave his home in Al Mayadin in 2012 when ISIS took control of his town.

An established artist and art teacher in Syria, Salman has displayed his art in more than 15 countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Almost four decades of his art was destroyed when ISIS arrived in his country.

ISIS declared his art as “black magic,” destroying his studio and artworks as well as his own published books on traditional Syrian art.

He needed to flee his home, fearing for his life if ISIS were to catch him.

“I want to support any humans and their struggles through my art,” he says, with his wife Soaad and son Hamza translating.

Although his art history has been destroyed, he is confident he can rebuild his work in the safety of Canada.

Salman’s paintings express aspects of traditional Syrian heritage and the devastation that war has left on his people.

“My paintings tell stories and convey ideas,” his artist statement reads.

“The main shapes and themes in my paintings are composed of crowded details from old stories and legends, tattoos, and symbols of cultural and historical significance that form a distinct style and foundation of the art piece while communicating specific ideas and meanings.”

He explained his belief that it’s his responsibility to preserve his heritage and traditions by sharing the same folk tales told to him by his mother.

“Every problem he has, he tries to tell it in his art,” says his son.

Salman created art throughout his journey to Canada.

He left Syria in 2012 but wouldn’t arrive in Canada until late 2017. Salman was in Lebanon waiting to make his way here; in those days, he would find pieces of canvas in the trash, filling every inch with drawings. He was making art with anything he could find.

One piece in this show includes pieces of canvas he sewed together, using shoe polish as paint. That's all he had at the time.

Connie Boldt has helped Salman since he arrived in Canada and has given him studio space in Edmonton, where he currently resides. She works almost as his manager, helping Salman re-launch his art career.

“He was very depressed and struggling because he lost so much, and he did not have the resources here to start again,” said Boldt. She noted his colours in his paintings were darker than what his work once represented.

“The use of my colours and drawing often incorporates the symbol of life, fertility, giving, and creativity,” reads Salman’s artist statement.

“Sadly, they also derive from experiences of pain, suffering and loss when I express the daily realities of people living with war (and) oppression, struggles as refugees, and establishing a new life in new cultural surroundings.”

Salman received a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council in 2019 that helped him purchase materials to create once again.

“He was really dealing with a lot of his trauma by expressing it in his art ... I think now he feels that since that time, he has been able to produce (art), and he has put those things behind him.”

The exhibition in Grande Prairie is just the beginning.

He called this show the “launching” of his Canadian art career.

Among the many art pieces in the exhibit are 12 large paintings depicting Salman’s journey from Syria to Canada.

On Thursday, Salman attended the opening reception at AGGP, his son and wife next to him, translating as he welcomed gallery viewers to his show.

He explained paintings to visiting patrons; even though he didn't speak English, he was able to communicate with them his passion for his art and the joy it gave him to be able to share it with the people of Grande Prairie.

“These artworks are not just expressions of artistic talent; they are powerful messages of resilience, hope, and compassion,” said Mohsen Ahi Andy, co-curator of the show.

The show is on display at the AGGP until May 21 and was curated by Ahi Andy and Manar Abo Touk.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News