The Penticton Art Gallery in British Columbia, Canada, is the inaugural venue of a traveling exhibition which shows that “You Are Not Alone”, not even in the midst of a pandemic

Sometime down the road, when the dust settles that this extraordinary year 2020 has kicked up, people will look back at it and realize that despite the lockdown, the hardships, and the sacrifices a few good things have come from it after all. Among those: the unleashing of creative potential many people never knew they had.

To harness this talent during the forced time of isolation, internationally renowned Penticton Art Gallery in Canada partnered with Nice-based association, sending out a cyber-message in a bottle to artists from across the globe to participate in an unprecedented art exhibition titled “You Are Not Alone. And over 180 artists heeded the call, submitting over 300 works. These are currently on show at the Penticton Art Gallery, the first of several venues to present this exhibition.

You Are Not Alone expo

Speaking to Humam Alsalim, co-founder of Syria.Art, we are interested in the genesis and purpose of “You Are Not Alone”. The young architect, now based in Berlin, hails from Syria, and experienced firsthand the war that ravaged his home country. If anyone is well-placed to talk about fear and isolation, it is him.

Humam, what is the idea behind this exhibit?

This artistic documentary of the lockdown period serves both as a retrospective on the isolation and a motivation to reach deep into oneself to find untapped resources.

Our society has already become increasingly insular, and the Covid-19 pandemic isolated us even more. When Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery suggested an exhibition showing how people around the world experienced lockdown, I was immediately convinced of its success.

You Are Not Alone expo

This expo is an expression of personal feelings but also designed to showcase the power of art and to celebrate the beauty and creativity people bring to this world through their talent. It is a reminder that regardless of where we live on this planet, we are not alone, there is something that connects us all. In this case, it’s art. And now more than ever, we need to come together to honor our collective humanity in all its diversity of colours, shapes, and sounds.

The exhibition is both virtual and physical. Everyone who felt like contributing was welcome to do so, and while all works are displayed in a permanent online gallery, the prestigious Penticton Art Gallery is also a terrific brick and mortar venue for a show. So what started in the spirit of the penpal and mail art movement, has become a time capsule, a document of our existence in this unprecedented moment in history, and a portable exhibition all in one.

Whose works are on show in “You Are Not Alone”?

We thought the best way to represent our collective and individual feelings during these times was to hold an open call, not only for established artists but for anyone who cared to express themselves.

For those who contributed this was their opportunity to reach out to a global audience and share their voice and story. We were truly impressed with the quality and panoply of the submissions. Most are in the requested A4 format but there are larger ones, as well as sculptures, installations, photography, videos, and audio. We received works from dozens of countries around the world, from amateurs and professionals, and from very young people to those in their 70s and 80s. It was absolutely fascinating to see the lockdown through their eyes.

Please introduce us to Paul Crawford and the Penticton Art Gallery…

Paul Crawford is a highly regarded Canadian gallerist and art curator who has been at the helm of the Penticton Art Gallery for many years now. He is also a staunch and faithful advocate for people in difficult situations, whether that’s the Syrian artists who lived through a devastating war, or the world at large where everyone is impacted through something as infinitesimally small as a virus.

Paul Crawford and Humam Alsalim

With his exceptional nose for rising talent, Paul has supported our work – that of Syria.Art and of the Cyrrus Gallery Damascus – for quite some time, giving us the opportunity to present our expo Behind the Lines in 2016. That show later toured all over Western Canada. So we were incredibly thankful for his suggestion to co-create this new show You Are Not Alone at his gorgeous space.

This may be a bit off-topic but while I have the opportunity I’d love to congratulate Paul on his recent Business Leader of the Year award for 2020 which he just received from the Penticton Chamber of Commerce.

… and tell us more about yourself and Syria.Art

I am 28 years old, from Damascus, and I moved to Berlin, Germany in 2017 where I started working in my profession as an architect. I also love the arts and had already founded the virtual Cyrrus Art Gallery in 2012 to promote and sell contemporary Syrian art. A few years later, I co-founded Syria.Art together with Dr. Khaled Youssef, a surgeon, photo artist, and book author of Syrian origin based in Nice, France. Our site is a virtual archive and gallery for Syrian art that serves as a platform to showcase and promote the work of distinguished and emerging Syrian artists. Thus, it provides a bridge between artists, collectors, first time buyers and art lovers.

Yor Re Not Alone poster

Paul loved the concept and in 2016 offered us the opportunity to showcase a selection of works in our Behind the Lines expo. From that very successful and fruitful collaboration sprang “You Are Not Alone”, co-curated by himself, Khaled Youssef and me.

The expo is conceptualized as a traveling exhibit which ships easily, so once it closes at its inaugural venue at the Penticton Art Gallery on November 8, we are looking forward to sharing it with other prestigious international galleries. Nice and Berlin are definitely on our list for 2021. And the permanent online exhibition will remain a lasting legacy of this project and its exhibitions.

Do you have a specific message beyond the exhibition?

Our hope is that through the act of sharing, deep, rich, and meaningful connections will develop that will not only bring us together but helps build bridges of friendship and understanding. No one is immune to this pandemic and we hope this will help us to get through this time by allowing us to share our stories, celebrate our diversity, mourn our losses, and heal as a planet.

Khaled Youssef Syria.Art

another grey line

Penticton Art Gallery
199 Marina Way
BC V2A 1H5

Tel: +1 250-493-2928

All applicable sanitary and hygienic protocols strictly respected

another grey line

Lead image by David Secor, all other images courtesy Syria.Art

2 Responses

  1. Julie

    A wonderful piece . Reinforcing how the invisible bond of humanity can unite strangers in a common cause. What an explosion of emotional and creative expression. The consequence of an evil leader- and the impact one disgraceful man can have on millions of people.

    • natja

      Hi Julie, I really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment, thank you so much for your kind words. This is indeed a wonderful exhibition, thanks to the collaboration of three highly committed organizers, and so many fantastic artists who heeded the call. I am not surprised that this international show launched in Canada, home to open-minded, welcoming people… and the home of my heart. If you have time, I invite you to look for my article (in this magazine) about Bill Cosgrave’s book “Love her Madly”, which is another testament to the amazing Canadian spirit.


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