Syrian refugees to work on Huntly art project inspired by Middle East conflict

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Syrian refugees in the north-east of Scotland are to join forces with a Damascus-born artist for three months to create a new body of work inspired by the conflict in the Middle East.

Manaf Halbouni, a German-Syrian artist, will work with a number of families who moved into the Huntly area of Aberdeenshire last year.

A special performance event and a film screening are expected to take place at the end of the three-month project, which is being run by the Huntly-based Deveron Arts group.

It will be partly inspired by the 101-year-old secret Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France, made with the assent of Russia, which helped create the modern-day Middle East.

Halbouni recently sparked controversy with three towers of rusting metal erected in the German city of Dresden, where his mother was born and where he lives. Inspired by bus barricades deployed during the civil war in Syria, they were unveiled shortly before the anniversary of the Allied bombing raids on Dresden.

The Huntly project - entitled What If? - will explore what would have happened had it been Europe instead of the old Ottoman Empire that was carved up in the wake of the 1916 agreement.

Halbouni said: “My project reacts to a time when many people from the Arab-Middle Eastern world are confronted with conflicts resulting from the colonial and post-colonial era.

“Wars, conflicts and the resulting migration to Europe compel us to explore and explain our rarely questioned history.”

Claudia Zeiske, director of Deveron Arts, said: "We are delighted to welcome Manaf to Huntly, particularly as our area has already welcomed many refugees from the conflict in Syria.

"The impact of the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement on the Middle East shouldn't be underestimated.

"Manaf's European-Syrian heritage not only gives him an innate understanding of issues currently facing the country in which he was brought up, but also of the wider implications of conflicts for the Middle East, Europe and beyond."