Metincan Suran

Year of Graduation: 
Drawing of Syrian family

I use art to bridge the gap between kids in Syrian refugee camps and people who live at Exeter.

The moment when Metincan Suran ’15 knew he must do something to help Syrian refugees fleeing into Turkey, his home country, came on a normal day. He was driving home with his mother when he saw a woman running toward their car, carrying a child in her arms and holding the hand of another. Suran and his mother stopped, brought the family home and ultimately found them shelter.

“Although they are safe now, I shall never forget the first time I saw them,” says Suran. “From that day on, I was not able to sleep for weeks. Every night in my dreams, I saw her face, and that fear in her eyes has never left me. I am still challenged when answering the question of how one physical border can make an unbelievable difference.”

From this encounter in late spring 2011 grew a project that has touched the lives of many refugees. Suran volunteered in refugee camps; raised funds to purchase books, pencils and notebooks for refugee children; and represented Syria in Model U.N. conferences as a way to give voice to its people.

And then he turned to art.

“During my first term at Exeter, I could not understand how many people were unaware of what was going on in Syria,” says Suran, who started at Exeter as an upper last September. “There were many people who asked me about the real situation – the one that is not covered by the press. I felt like I was not able to reach most of the community . . . I then decided to use art in order to bridge the gap between kids in Syrian refugee camps and people who live at Exeter.”

During winter break, Suran returned to the refugee camp. He sought out a young group of recent camp arrivals. “I spent a day socializing, teaching and playing with these 6-year-olds. The next day, I brought some crayons, pastels and watercolors, and we spent the day painting.” A boy drew his family, then erased a brother and added a coffin. A girl explained that she painted rainbows because she didn’t want to think about the war. “I may have learned more about being a human from these children than I have from my entire educational career.”

Suran has curated an exhibition at Exeter showcasing the drawings of 6-year-olds and teenage Syrian refugees. “I Drew My Family” opens Friday at Lamont Gallery.

“These paintings are like a primary source,” says Suran. “The children put their agony out there in the purest possible way. There is no shield. I could have asked them to talk about their experiences instead, but it would not have been as effective.”

— Nicole Pellaton