ART IN CRISIS: MEET THE ARTISTS

MEET THE ARTISTS OF ART IN CRISIS

WORDS: SOPHIE ZINSER '16 AND JACOB KARLIN '17

"For refugee artists who fled their country to escape war and devastation, art is both a passion and a tool: a tool to retain their identity even as all else has been stripped away, to generate income for their families, and to share their message with the outside world. In Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, these artists include professionals who taught art in Syria, youth who were studying Modern Art prior to fleeing and individuals who have newly developed their passion in exile.

Syrian artists came together as part of the Jasmine Collar  and Art from Za’atari  Committees, both comprised of artists who collaborate on art galleries and community service projects, with support from International Relief and Development and UNHCR. The artists have organized galleries in Za’atari Camp and in Amman. The Amal Foundation is bringing these pieces to galleries outside of Jordan. All proceeds from sales go directly to the artists." - Wesleyan Refugee Project on Art in Crisis. 

Sophie Zinser '16, Elisavet Arslanoglou '16, and Thafir Elzofri '19 from the Wesleyan Refugee Project led a series of digital Q&A session with Wesleyan students and the Syrian refugee artists. These sessions gave students opportunities to ask Syrian refugee artists about their work, as well as a space to learn more about the crisis. The meeting began by defining a refugee: the 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Zinser noted the importance of understanding the definition of a refugee, so as not to confuse the term (as mainstream media has) with words such as migrant, asylum-seeker, or internally displaced person (IDP). 

The artists presented in Art in Crisis come from Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. This refugee camp is home to over 83,000 refugees. In Jordan, only 18% of refugees live in refugee camps. More than half of the refugees that the UN Refugee Agency serves live in urban areas. 

The artists presented in Art in Crisis come from Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. This refugee camp is home to over 83,000 refugees. In Jordan, only 18% of refugees live in refugee camps. More than half of the refugees that the UN Refugee Agency serves live in urban areas. 

The session then introduced the artists, and presented a message from the Syrian refugee artists: 

"We are the Syrian artists who have grown exhausted from this unbearable war, we have grown tired by its troubles. War hasn’t stopped us from saying what is right and it hasn’t prevented us from drawing. We have drawn beauty, childhood memories, days of studying, and the sound of nature: birds in winter, a trickle of water running between old houses, and the rustle of trees.

War has left nothing in our hearts but love - the love of our country, love for friends, future love and adoration for everything that reminds us of Syria, like the smell of Jasmine.

...We seek to share our truths, spread kindness, and connect with the world so that they hear our voice. It is our right to live as human beings. Za’atari children want the world to hear their voice and to know that their childhood was stolen. They dream of a new, beautiful life. We draw for them, we draw for us, and we draw for you."

Students had the opportunity to look at the artists' work and ask them questions about both their work and life in Za'atari, such as "What do these artists need most?",  "What is access to privacy like in Za'atari Refugee Camp?"  "Why/how do artists use these materials in their works?", and "What do these artists want students at Wesleyan to know about them?" The WRP are waiting for the artists' responses. Below are images of works made by the Syrian refugee artists in Art in Crisis

If you have questions for the artists or questions about their work, please contact Sophie Zinser and Elisavet Arslanoglou at szinser@wesleyan.edu and earslanoglou@wesleyan.eduArt in Crisis will be in the Center for Humanities from May 1 to May 22.  Between May 1 and May 22, art will be sold in a silent auction format at Wesleyan's Center for the Humanities, with proceeds going directly to the artists in Za'atari.