Skinny children, ash-laden streets, and a young mother with worrisome eyes are among the 18 images students can see as they walk into the Iwasaki Library from Nov. 16 until Dec. 7.
A new photo gallery displays images of war-torn Syria in the library as part of Syrian photojournalist Bassam Khabieh’s exhibition tour in New England. Assistant Professor Yasser Munif said he invited the photographer to display his photographs to provide context and perspectives on the Syrian war to students and faculty.
“It is meant to raise awareness among people who are afar and who are only exposed to mainstream media telling,” Munif said. “The violence, the killings, and people are shooting each other but not necessarily understanding the root and the context of the problem.”
Munif said he and Khabieh will host a public talk titled “Syrian People: A Battle for Life” about the photos in the library on Dec. 6 at 12 p.m.
Graduate student Xin Wan said she has seen many photos depicting Syrian refugees before.
“The first time I saw that kind of images I was shocked, but I was not that sensitive after seeing these kinds of photos for years,” Wan said.
Khabieh is an independent journalist and an insider of Syrian society, Munif said. The photojournalist could provide students with a grassroots perspective—making his work unique, according to Munif.
Previously the library displayed photos from the former professor-in-residence Patrick Farrell
, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. The library exhibits students’ or faculty’s artwork about twice a year, according to Robert Fleming, the executive director of the library.
On Monday, Nov. 19 Fleming removed the most intense photos and left a wall blank.
Initially, a wall in direct view of student library workers featured graphic photos. Munif and Fleming put a select group of photos on walls in direct view of students and other, more graphic images on walls out of view.
Munif said he would like to balance educating students on situations in Syria without triggering them.
“Seeing those photos is not an easy process,” Munif said. “But it was a part of understanding what is happening and also interpreting people who are not usually interested in those issues.”
Freshman Lauren Licona said photos with dead bodies are inappropriate to display because they are disrespectful. Licona also said the display provided little background information. Captions under each photo provide the exhibition with a textual element.
“I understand that they are trying to draw attention to this issue,” Licona said. “But I felt the way they did it was very inappropriate.”
Giuliana Bruno, a senior journalism student, said she understood the value of the images even though she did not expect to see such powerful and shocking photos in the library.
“I think it is important to see these photos,” Bruno said. “It reminds people of real things happening to real people.”
Fleming said he received three notes from comment boxes saying some photos made students feel uncomfortable. Students come to the library to study and focus on their work, and they did not feel prepared to see graphic scenes, according to Fleming.
“My lesson from this experience is that, for certain kind of photographs, they should be displayed where people might expect to be challenged by the artwork they see,” Fleming said.
Khabieh first held the exhibition at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He decided to conduct a tour in the New England area after Munif spoke at Colby about the significance of showing the situation in Eastern Ghouta. Various schools and museums in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York have displayed the gallery.