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In 2019, when our galleries hosted Jenny Holzer. Thing Indescribable, the artist donated three works to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, adding to the five that were already part of the Museum Collection.

THERE WAS A WAR is one of these three works. It is a four-sided vertical LED sign that swings from a robotic assembly suspended from the gallery’s ceiling. For this work, Holzer sought out information on Syria’s ongoing civil war, its devastating humanitarian consequences, and the international refugee crisis—the documents used by the artist include 131 individual eyewitness accounts collected between 2011 and 2016 by the organizations Human Rights Watch and Save the Children. Interviews with civilian protesters arrested, detained, and tortured by the Assad regime and with defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies offer insight into the unfulfilled promise of Syria’s Arab Spring. Statements from Syrian children and their parents give voice to the many families who have fled their homes over the past eight years and now struggle with daunting challenges.

Text: Interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch and Save the Children with Syrian citizens and refugees.

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