Tucked away below the depths of Waterloo Station in an unassuming cellar is a powerful exhibition about the high hopes of young Syrian refugees.
The exhibition, organised by London-based charity International Alert, is called Create Syria: A Future Constellation, and it aims to take the visitor on an immersive journey using paintings, films, poetry and choral singing.
“Create Syria shows how creativity and expression are opening up space for wonder and calm in a time of crisis and the opportunity to imagine a different future,” said Charlotte Onslow, who co-ordinates the Create Syria project at International Alert.
The exhibits show the full range of the experience of being a refugee.
One exhibit, The Camp And My Parents’ Story by filmmakers Abed al-Aziz Aidy and Hisham al-Zouki, is about documenting refugees’ memories and confronting viewers with real suffering.
On the other end of the spectrum, another video depicts children learning how to make music with their voices and bodies and another shows young adult refugees learning how to draw animations professionally.
Meanwhile, the words of the artists themselves adorn the walls on posters, so the stories behind the works are always present.
The diverse range of art forms shows conditions in a Lebanese refugee camp, which are unsurprisingly basic with very little space or sanitation. But the problems of the refugee children, their struggle and their plight are dwarfed by the one thing we in the West are rarely shown.
Hisham, whose film was made in Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, wanted to use this platform to raise a different kind of awareness.
“Syrians currently only have hope, and that’s the message we want to showcase,” Hisham said.
“We offer a window of hope, with adults it is hard to do that, adults are far less forgiving, but children, for the most part, are different – they are more optimistic and forgive more easily.”
Hannibal Saad, who helped teach children to sing for the exhibiton, said: “When you are working with the children you hear about their misery, for the past and present.
“But it is the job of the artist to keep the possibility of life, strength and dignity alive.”
The exhibition comes alive with this theme: Although the space is small, each stop transports you to a world of suffering but one where love, laughter and hope still exist.
Create Syria curator Ying Hsuan Tai said: “A constellation will link together each of the Syrian artists and their stories – symbolising their shared hopes and dreams for a future without violence.”
The message of the exhibition is clear: Syria is not just about destruction and crises, but also regrowth and creativity – and above all, there is hope after the war.
While reports of another failed ceasefire or civilian massacre may dampen hopes for the Syrian children, the exhibition does what news reports often fail to do: It humanises experiences and helps us understand the very real aspirations of young adults and children who have seen untold horrors.
The project is run by International Alert in collaboration with the British Council and the independent, Lebanon-based cultural organisation Ettijahat and will be on until October 2.