HOW IF WHEN: An Interview with Seif Eddine Jlassi & Mousa AlNana

Co-produced by artists and cultural workers, Seif Eddine Jlassi & Mousa AlNana, HOW IF WHEN is an immersive exhibition taking place as part of Common Ground Festival and Glasgow International.

Fri 7 June — Sat 22 June 2024, CCA Glasgow

Inspired by the New Syria project, a collection of drawings born from the creative expressions of children living in a refugee camp, this exhibition portrays the power of imagination amidst adversity. The drawings offer glimpses into the children’s vision of Syria and how they would imagine or remember home. Although they are sentimental, they provoke questions difficult to articulate and answers yet to be found.

Building upon these artworks and the living situation of the children, Jlassi and AlNana have crafted an experience that recreates the jarring feel of the camp. Contrasted with the display of the children’s tender artworks, the audience is placed into their lives and invited to experience the world through their eyes. Objects and materials commonly seen in these environments are incorporated into the room, capturing the roughness endured by these children, with a glimmer of hope peeking through their artworks. Visitors are encouraged to actively engage by drawing and utilising the provided materials to add their own visions, becoming integral parts of the exhibition.

In a conversation with Mariem Omari, the artists discussed the inspirations behind their exhibition, resulting in the following interview.

What personally inspired you to want to create this exhibition?

Our experiences of the camp revealed the many contradictions and paradoxes that the concept of “place/space” can contain. The relationship to stability; to physical and psychological health; to the meaning of safety and the ability to resist. “Place” here is not just a geographical area, but rather a state of stability that contrasts with difficult circumstances. Life in the camp is full of suffering, but it also contains moments of hope, creativity, innovation, and aspiration for a better future. This contrast between hope and pain is what touches the heart.

Children in the camps, for example, express their reality with their drawings and dreams, which are expressions that stem from their rich imaginations that struggle with their harsh daily reality. These drawings reflect a fragile balance between childhood innocence and the cruelty of life, and they serve as a window into their inner worlds reflecting their hopes and pains. All of these overlapping and contradictory elements inspired us to create the exhibition.

The exhibition is not only a space to display the works and drawings of refugees or their belongings. Rather it is a sensory experience that recreates the conditions of life in the camps by transforming the space into a large tent that embodies the roughness and difficulty experienced by people of war and their children, allowing visitors to experience a part of this life, and feel the challenges they face.

What are the deeper themes you are exploring as part of this exhibition?

An important theme that the exhibition focuses on is the sense of “place”. We explore the contradictions that the same human being can experience in the same place, and how these contradictions affect the physical and psychological health of individuals.

The exhibition also focuses on involving visitors in the experience of life in the camps by playing with the exhibition objects and drawing on the façade of the tent. These activities are not just superficial interactions, but rather a way to entangle visitors in the camp diary, making them feel uncomfortable and disoriented. This feeling of confusion is part of the message that the exhibition seeks to convey, as it aims to make visitors feel part of the psychological and physical pressure experienced by camp residents.

Through this sensory and emotional interaction, the exhibition hopes to stimulate visitors to think deeply about the meanings of place and stability, and to contemplate the extent to which surrounding conditions affect life. By touching on these emotional and psychological aspects, the exhibition seeks to create an experience that leaves a lasting impact, prompting them to empathize and think about how to provide support and assistance to those living in these circumstances. In this way, the exhibition turns into a platform for awareness and motivation for positive action, through an artistic and social experience that leaves a long-lasting resonance in the collective consciousness of visitors.

Is this an immersive exhibition? And if so, what can attendees expect?

Yes, attendees can expect to enter a world that accurately and realistically emulates camp life. Instead of simply looking at artworks or photographs, visitors will find themselves part of the scene, interacting with their surroundings in multiple ways. When they enter the exhibition, they will find themselves in a large tent that reflects the atmosphere of the camps, allowing them to experience those conditions. They will feel the temporary instability and daily contradictions facing camp residents, which we hope will generate empathy and understanding.

This immersive experience aims to create an emotional and intellectual connection between visitors and camp life, and prompt them to reflect on the human and social dimensions of these experiences. Thanks to this interactive environment, visitors will leave the exhibition with new perspectives on the meaning of place, safety, and stability, and a greater appreciation for the challenges faced by those living in such difficult circumstances.

What impact are you hoping to have on individuals and on the wider community?

The desired impact is to enhance awareness and understanding of the experiences of people living in difficult circumstances, as well as motivate visitors to think and act positively towards social and humanitarian issues. By experiencing immersion in the exhibition, individuals learn about the lives of others in an interactive way, enhancing understanding and empathy for the difficulties they face.

On an individual level, we hope that this exhibition will enhance visitors’ personal awareness and provoke deep reflection. By immersing them in the camp experience, their perception of time, life, death and place will change, and support their ability to interact with their surroundings and provide support to those who need it.

On a social level, this exhibition can serve as a starting point for important discussions on refugee and migrant issues, and how to provide support to these people and promote stability and integration in societies. The exhibition can motivate visitors to take practical action to provide assistance to those in need through volunteering and donating, and lobbying government policies to improve the conditions of refugees and migrants. Therefore, this exhibition can contribute to building a more engaged, empathetic and solidarity-based society.

If there was one defining thought that you want to leave us with about the importance of this exhibition, what would that be?

If there is one thought we would like to leave about the importance of this exhibition, it would be that it represents a unique opportunity to delve deeper into understanding the challenges many people living in camps face around the world. The exhibition provides an artistic vision of the difficult circumstances these groups live in, and encourages critical thinking and positive action towards refugee and migrant issues.

Join us for the opening Thursday 6 June, 7 – 9pm, as part of Glasgow International.

Find out more here –

Seif Eddine Jlassi
Seif Eddine Jlassi is an artist and cultural activist graduated from the Higher Institute of Fine Arts Tunisia and researcher at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts. Since 2015, he has been a member of the United Nations Youth Advisory Council. He is a certificated trainer in cultural management, new tactics of Human rights, and advocacy. In 2011, he founded in Tunisia “Fanni Raghman Anni”, a cultural organisation that is working to advocate access to culture mainly in interior and disadvantaged areas and promote the role of culture in social change. He received different awards such as the UNV Award for best volunteering work in the Arab region in 2014, and the Takreem Award for cultural excellence in the Arab region in 2016. He is the director of different theatre plays such as WC, Zamaken, Gantra and Getlouh.

Mousa AlNana
Born in Homs, Syria, and currently based in Glasgow, Scotland, Mousa AlNana’s artistic journey began at a young age. After graduating from Sobhi Shoieb Art Centre in Homs, he pursued further education in fine arts at Damascus University and later obtained a master’s degree from Glasgow School of Art.

When experiencing Mousa AlNana’s artwork, you’ll encounter the essence of humanity, portrayed through a spectrum of emotions and vulnerability. This intimate portrayal exists beneath the textured surfaces and intricate lines. Through his fusion of collage techniques and a monochromatic palette, Mousa encapsulates the human spirit within the composition of figures and space.

His artistic pursuits span various mediums, including painting, printmaking, graphic design, and tattooing. Additionally, Mousa engages as a participatory artist, collaborating with diverse communities and groups. He participated in various projects and exhibitions across Syria, Egypt, Europe, and the UK. Mousa AlNana believes in the transformative power of art in driving revolutions and fostering social change. He aspires to use his art and personal narrative to leave an indelible mark and effect meaningful change.