by Shruti Mungi '19
Knox College will host Mariela Shaker, an accomplished Syrian violinist and award-winning refugees advocate, for a weeklong residency from April 2-9.
The residency will include panels, classroom visits, and performances that will explore the intersections of political action, advocacy, and the arts. Her visit will culminate with two free, public events: a performance with Nova Singers on April 6, and an art and advocacy event on April 8.
During the "Art and Advocacy for Students from Conflict Zones" event, Shaker will perform a recital, share her story, and answer questions about her past experiences in Syria and present involvements with UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. The event will take place on April 8 at 7:00 p.m in Kresge Recital Hall, Center for Fine Arts on the Knox College campus.
The recital and presentation will be a dedication to the hardworking students from conflict areas who struggle every day to continue their education, according to Shaker.
“I want my audience to experience what it means to be an immigrant, to come to a new country fleeing war, and start drawing your new life from scratch,” she said. “I will perform to convey the powerful message of art and music in inspiring world leaders and change makers. Music must be louder than any weapon in order for us to live our dreams without fear.”
Shaker was born in Aleppo, Syria, and began playing the violin at the age of 10, when she joined the Arabic Institute of Music. In 2013, she survived the war in Syria after receiving a scholarship and other financial support from people and organizations as far away as Saudi Arabia and England to study music performance at Monmouth College. Unable to return to her home country due to the ongoing conflict, she decided to use her music as a way to build bridges and promote peace and awareness for the plight of the Syrian people, as a high-profile supporter for the UNHCR.
Shaker has previously performed and spoken at the Kennedy Center, Brookings Institution, Pentagon Conference, United Nations, Arab American Institute, and more. She was honored as a Champion of Change for World Refugees by former President Obama.
Bren Tooley, director of the Stellyes Center for Global Studies, emphasized that the breadth of Shaker’s experience and advocacy work extends far beyond the world of music alone. “Mariela is a powerful example of someone who has fled violence to find a better life, an eloquent advocate for outreach to refugees and internally displaced people, as well as for all international students who come from situations of conflict.”
“As she talks with students and faculty who are interested in what is happening and how to help—in fields like international studies, foreign service and policy, peace and justice, and international development—Mariela is likely to help us with new perspectives and possibilities for engagement and connection,” she added.
Shaker will sing of her home like she does every time she performs, and she will continue her mission of bringing awareness to students who pursue their education in conflict zones or flee their homes to avoid violence.
“My story is not about myself, but about every girl who found herself trapped in the way and fought for her voice to be heard,” she said. “The survival stories of refugees are so relevant today, but it is most important to follow their achievements, successes, and to hear their voices.”
Shaker's residency will be presented by the Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies, Nova Singers, the Knox Music Department, the Peace & Justice Studies Program, and the Lucile Sudbury Charitable Trust.