PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Under grow lights suspended from the ceiling of Brown’s David Winton Bell Gallery, a tall green stem topped with a large pink blossom commands attention. The flower, a damask rose from Syria, bloomed just in time for the final week of artist Fatma Bucak’s exhibition “And men turned their faces from there.”
The exhibition, which closes on Sunday, Feb. 5, contends with the human and political implications of borders, including the U.S.-Mexican border and the Kurdish conflict on the Turkish-Syrian border near where Bucak was born. In a week when global attention has been focused on whether borders should be open or closed, and to whom, Bucak's thought-provoking work offers an intimate look at communities impacted by state action and, in the case of the roses, symbolizes the uncertain fate of migrants.
Since November, a raised bed of earth studded with rose cuttings imported from Syria and grafted onto Turkish plants, has occupied a central location in the gallery. Amid installations of haunting video performances, photographs and a lithography stone etched with the names of Turkish citizens who have gone missing, the small plants tried to take root. While some did not thrive, others blossomed.
“Growing flowers in a gallery with no windows may sound like an uncertain proposal, but we were cautiously optimistic that some of the rose plants would put down roots,” said Bell Gallery curator Ian Alden Russell, who helped Bucak plant and tend the roses. “We did not anticipate that so many would take so well to the soil, nor that one would flower.”
Russell pointed out that the roses’ cultivation in Syria has been arrested by the war that began in 2011. While the roses are grown elsewhere in the Middle East, their name is derived from Damascus, the Syrian capital.
“Evoking both the ecological costs and the human consequences of modern warfare, it’s a simple, yet moving metaphor for the challenges that many migrants in the world — and those from Syria in particular — are facing,” Russell said. “Caring for the roses daily in the gallery reminds me that we too have a responsibility to meet and care for those meeting these challenges.”
Damask roses are famed for their color, used in cooking and to make rose water, perfumes and rose oil. They are also celebrated in literature, including Shakespeare’s sonnets. At the close of the exhibition, the roses will be repotted and distributed by gallery staff to members of the local community.
“We hope finding new homes for the roses will encourage reflection on how we welcome, make space and help people find new homes within our community,” Russell said.
“And men turned their faces from there” will be on display until Sunday, Feb. 5. The Bell Gallery is open Monday through Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 401-863-2932 or visit www.brown.edu/bellgallery.