Stories Art Gallery is bringing art from conflict-torn countries to a new audience. Words by Reyhaan Day.
To Manas Ghanem, art represents stories: tales of strife, resilience, hope, love.
She was born and raised in Syria, before studying in the US, moving to Greece and finally the UK.
Now she is director and curator at Stories Art Gallery on South Audley Street, Mayfair.
But she has only recently turned her attention to the art world.
“I was fascinated by Greek mythology as a child, and the art scene growing up in Syria was vivid and beautiful.”
She adds: “It was fascinating to see a piece of art – to know where the motivation came from, and to see the story behind it… it made us feel good as children.”
From the UN to art
Manas spent more than 10 years working for the United Nations as a lawyer.
She sees herself as a global citizen.
“I’ve learned that home can be anywhere that you have close friends and where you feel loved – and where you actually give to others.”
Then she took a year away from the UN, resolving to make her dream of running a gallery a reality.
She curated her first exhibition in Athens on artists working in Syria.
“The general stereotype was that Syrians were only refugees or only victims.”
She adds: “I wanted the audience to see that there is much more to the human being than just one particular condition.”
It was this exhibition which inspired a permanent gallery.
“Those images were from artists who had remained back home.
“They tried to live normally.
“Yes, they had many challenges and troubles, but they were producing beautiful, meaningful and inspiring art,” she says.
A permanent gallery
Manas was lucky to be in touch with Natalja Vasina and her husband. They appreciated the show enough to partner with Manas on launching the gallery in Mayfair.
Works by calligraphy master Mouneer Al Shaarani currently hang at the gallery.
Since opening in October 2018, there have been four exhibitions by artists from Syria, Britain and Europe.
Artists who have worked under ISIS-held territories have also displayed their work.
“One of our artists didn’t have access to art materials.
“He eventually left and ran away with his children, but managed to take his paintings with him,” she says.
Also, Manas and Natalja are working to provide books in their own languages to refugee children arriving in Greece.
“We hope this will help refugee children to integrate and become contributors to society, rather than be stigmatised,” she said.
For the full story in the Mayfair Times, read here.
To find out more about Stories Art Gallery read here.
Main picture: (left to right) Natalja Vasina & Manas Ghanem.