The Dabke collective uses art to reclaim identity and spaces. Thus, their focus on drawing from refugee experiences is particularly apt. Dabke, a folk dance originating in the middle east, has historically taken on resistive quality, divorced from institutional and elite control. This resonates with the spirit and slogan of the initiative “Sounds of Repossession”, which is not merely an act of telling stories in a quiet whisper but rather about the ownership of those stories in the form of a vociferous, untranslated reclamation.
Their first project, In Search of Lines presents the experiences of Syrian refugees through photography, painting, sculptures and other mediums, the collective utilizes alternative forms of storytelling and gives the refugees the power to control their narrative. These six Syrian newcomers navigate unfamiliar spaces and lives in Toronto, Canada, but they remain firmly rooted in recollection, memory and confrontation of trauma. Their artwork can be divided into a three-part series. The first part illustrated abstract cartographic representations of Syria’s cities, a process of invoking memories that the refugees wish to share about where they come from; the second part mapped out the newcomers’ journeys as they remembered them, across land and sea as they began leaving Syria; and the third part embodied a reflection of their lives in a new place.
The art collective is the brainchild of a group of women from a range of backgrounds, originating from Canada to Pakistan, to Lebanon and their efforts reflect this diversity. Gathering the help of translators and artists across Toronto, they placed storytelling tools firmly in the hands of refugees, some of whom had no prior experience with art. But through intensive workshop collaboration, the artists and newcomers created a collection ready for public consumption. Shown at the Riverdale Hub Gallery, the work was praised for its high quality and searing subject matter. One piece, titled “The Waiting” shows a pair of hands interlaced with Arabic words, a cartographic representation of Tamer’s thought process as he navigates his identity and uncertainties in Lebanon, the journey carved not in an external space but in the body itself.
The collective hopes to expand and bring their work to other galleries and spaces, and continue to collaborate with individuals and movements beyond Canada as well. They aim to engage larger governmental and international bodies which take the lead on policy issues, and challenge them to include those at the centre of these experiences in the decision making processes.
What neighbourhood are you based out of?
The Dabke Collective was established in Toronto and all current projects exhibited or in the works are based here, with most of our team from various parts of the GTA. However, the diversity of our team reflects the movement beyond borders which Dabke is meant to embody, and so some of our coordinators and translators associated with different aspects of the initiative are connected with us from as far as London and Lebanon as well.
What do we do?
The Dabke Collective is an initiative geared towards activism through art. It was established on the staunch belief in the therapeutic and powerful effect that art can have on an individual. The primary focus of our initial projects has been to bring attention to the perspective of refugees, which is largely overlooked in the mainstream. We hope to present new visual narratives and commentaries that are being used to represent and communicate individual lived experiences of refugees and newcomers in Canada – thereby bringing them onto local political and social agendas in a way far more powerful than words alone.
Projects undertaken by Dabke are meant to be a source of empowerment, and most importantly focus on letting people speak for themselves rather than simply being spoken about. In essence they are about something more crucial than awareness, they are about representation. They are about changing the language, the image, the sound that we know, and unlearning what we have become used to. By working with people with diverse experiences and worldviews we want to face the sometimes uncomfortable truths and see through different perspectives, while welcoming provoking thought processes that disturb us in our comfortable realities. At times, it’s not about making sense of the world but finding the innate sense of humanity amidst the uproar of chaos. A thought process that can only be embodied through art, the one form of expression that transcends the boundaries that mediate our existence.
What are we currently working on?
We just wrapped up our first exhibition, In Search of Lines, at the Riverdale Hub Gallery.
The project, through film, photography, sculpture & painting, is meant to illustrate the diverse experiences of 6 Syrian newcomers as they venture through familiar and unfamiliar places, a journey which finally led them to Toronto.
In the case of refugees, maps have often been instruments of violence; by binding people (and in some sense culture) to a particular place they declare them outsiders to any other space. They pose as objective realities that carry a permanence- an order which is not meant to be disrupted. This project however, was meant to counter these ideas by proposing subjective realities of the lived world that invisible lines cannot account for.
You can find us on our website www.thedabkecollective.com, or on our social media profiles!