Art connects Syria and Rutland


Khaled Youssef covered his face and fought back tears as Rutland locals told him about the importance of his art in the gallery.

Onlookers tried to hold back their emotions as tears also formed in their eyes. The entire gallery was silent as a community member greeted Youssef in his native language and spoke of how, “where we are broken is where the light comes through.”

Looking around at all the powerful pieces of artwork in the gallery it is clear that they have already affected the masses after only being introduced in the past month.  

Young and old residents showed up to the Castleton Downtown Art Gallery in Rutland to listen to and talk with the Syrian refugee about the messages in his work, which are portrayed through photographs of bubbles.

Youssef focuses on the theme of time and said his goal is to, “catch the moment since a bubble only has 1 or 2 seconds of life.” These moments he captures of his people stresses the importance of fleeting happiness and hopes for a positive future.

These themes resonated with the people of Rutland and prompted reflection of life in its entirety.  

The Syrian art at the gallery showcases various styles of art, from buildings in ruins to children dancing with bubbles. Dark faceless characters captivated the viewers drawing attention to the despair and hopelessness transcending the piece. Youssef’s bubbles captured moments in time showcasing bright colors and vibrant bursts of life and opportunity.   

“It’s all about getting in the bubble,”, Youssef said explaining how he is excited to combine the personal bubbles of those in Rutland, with his own. A medical surgeon with a love for art and poetry, Youssef speaks about “the ephemeral part of life” and how he is trying to reach out to Vermont to show how we all are equal.

Rutland Mayor Chris Louras attended the event on Sept. 18 and talked about how the art exhibition “will make a significant impact on our community as we prepare to welcome your brothers and sisters from Syria.”

Castleton Downtown Art Gallery is currently showcasing 12 Syrian artists’ work and held a Skype Q & A session with Youssef, who helped organize the exhibition. The art gallery hopes to integrate the culture of the Syrian people into the general public of Rutland before the potential arrival 100 refugees to the city next fall.

“As important as it is to ensure that any new Americans are integrated to our community, we need to integrate our community to the new Americans,” Louras said.  

Castleton University art department Chairman Oliver Schemm thanked Youssef for spending his time and artwork with the rest of the community.

“This is an important project for the city, but also the idea of creative life and humanity itself,” he said.

Although Youssef could not fly to Vermont due to last minute complications, Castleton University President David Wolk made it clear that he would be happy to welcome him in the classic Castleton way.

“You were going to be at our house for dinner, so the invitation still stands. We will welcome you with the warm embrace of a loving family,” Wolk said.



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