Iraqi painters’ work showcased by UN refugee agency

26 March 2009
Iraqi artist Wadhah Mahdi next to one of his colourful creations.

The United Nations refugee agency is giving nearly two dozen Iraqi painters, most of whom are refugees, an opportunity to show their work and tell their stories to a wide audience.

Over 250 people attended the opening of the “Transitions” exhibit earlier this week at the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the selling of some paintings generated much-needed income for the artists.

The art “reflects the talent and resourcefulness of the Iraqi population” as well as the “important insights that artists have on the situation of refugees and Iraq,” Philippe Leclerc, the agency’s Acting Representative in Syria, said at the exhibit’s opening.

Most of the 22 artists whose works are displayed live in Damascus, unable to return to their home country for safety reasons, while one has never left Iraq, but has not been able to exhibit his art for several years due to the security situation in Baghdad.

Calling themselves the “Babylon Artists,” the painters, who include four women, tell the stories of Iraqi refugees in Syria and the wider region.

One of the artists, Waleed Hassan, was persecuted for his work by a group objecting to his representation of the human form in his art, and was exiled for seven months with his family.

The colours and landscapes in his work remind him of a more peaceful Iraq, he said, adding that in his paintings, “we try to capture the memories.”

The exhibition, which ends on 16 April, is part of a joint UNHCR-European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) effort to give refugees in Syria the opportunity to express themselves.


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