Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Art Of Syrian Refugees Sends A Message. Is Anyone Listening?

In "Exile From One's Country," Mohammed Al-Amari captures the pain of a Syrian girl.
In "Exile From One's Country," Mohammed Al-Amari captures the pain of a Syrian girl.
Courtesy of Mohammed Al Amari
When Syrian artist Mohammed Al-Amari, 27, fled the country's civil war last winter he couldn't carry much. Just some clothes, and little else, he says. But he did manage to bring some "colors" with him — watercolors, pastels and even a few of his paintings.
The artist Mohammed Al-Amari, who fled Syria last winter, uses his paints and pastels to capture the lives of refugees and to remember the country they left behind.
The artist Mohammed Al-Amari, who fled Syria last winter, uses his paints and pastels to capture the lives of refugees and to remember the country they left behind.
Courtesy of International Relief and Development
Al-Amari and his wife didn't want to leave their home in Daraa province in southwestern Syria. They stayed for the first three years of the war, but eventually moved from their village to another one that was further from the conflict.
Last year, they reached a point when they couldn't stay any longer. Al-Amari is an elementary school art teacher. But in this village, no one was going to school.
"There was no money. There was nowhere to work, nothing to do to support myself and my family," he says. "It felt like all the life stopped."
So they made a risky 15-hour journey, driving to the Jordanian border and then walking over to join at least 3 million other Syrians who have left their country as refugees.
Now he and his wife, and their new baby, live in Za'atari Camp, a veritable city in the desert in Jordan, where more than 83,000 refugees live. Al-Amari is teaching art again as a volunteer, a few hours each day. To fill the rest of his time, he captures Syrian life – suspended — in his art.
Waiting is a major theme. What will come next, and when? This question preys on the minds of most people in the camp, says Al-Amari.
"My Grandmother" is the title of this Al-Amari portrait.i
"My Grandmother" is the title of this Al-Amari portrait.
Courtesy of Mohammed Al Amari
First, there's the day-to-day kind of waiting. Stuck within the borders of the dusty 5-square-mile camp, with its rows and rows of tents and trailers, Al-Amari craves a change of scenery.
"Sometimes we feel like the camp is a prison. It takes 5 months to maybe get just a 1 to 2 day pass to leave the camp, to go to Amman, the capital of Jordan, just to get out of this environment," Al-Amari says. "And that's if the local authorities approve my leaving the camp."
Then there's the bigger picture kind of waiting, a symptom of the vast uncertainty Syrians face. They have no idea when the war might end, or when they will be able to resume anything resembling normal life.
Al-Amari paints the faces of children, of women, of his grandmother, all with this one thing in common.
"They're waiting," he explains. "When I see it, when I paint it, they're waiting for a moment when they can return to the life as it was, when it used to be beautiful. We hope that the future will be more beautiful. But at the same time I feel the abyss. The path could also go for the worse. "
It's hard to stay hopeful. But it's easy to feel nostalgia.
Al-Amari met other artists in the camp. Together, they cast into their memories and draw what they remember; sometimes, iconic Syrian monuments that they fear will not survive the war, like the 2nd century Roman theater in Bosra or the ancient city walls in Damascus. All six of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in Syria are now damaged, or in danger, or both, and many other historic sites have been destroyed.
This 2nd-century Roman theater is in the ancient city of Bosra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This 2nd-century Roman theater is in the ancient city of Bosra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Courtesy of Mohammed Al Amari
"We're taking a picture of Syria — how it was, how the villages looked, how the cities looked" before the war, says Al-Amari.
But Al-Amari is determined to do more than just wait. He vows to make something of his time in Za'atari Camp. Many artists have worked under trying conditions, he tells himself. He and his artist friends in the camp can do the same.
"We haven't stopped [doing] what we love."
He hopes his work can touch people inside the camp, where International Relief and Development (IRD) has supported the artists with supplies and a place to work. Camp artists have painted murals on the sides of canvas tents and staged four gallery shows.
Al-Amari says that maybe getting his images out into the world, as he has in exhibitions from Amman, Jordan, to California, will lead to some kind of change in the situation for Syria refugees.
His friend, 24-year-old artist Mahmoud Al-Hariri, agrees.
"Through our art, we've worked on sharing so many messages, trying to help life in the camp to improve, get word out about what's happening in Syria, show the pain one feels as a refugee, show sadness and devastation inside the country," says Al-Hariri.
But actual change? That's another waiting game for these artists.
"In the end, these messages, they haven't changed anything we see on the ground, and that is what's missing," Al-Hariri explains. "It's like writing a letter, and no one gives you a response."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This International Women's Day...

  • A Pakistani woman arranges bricks as she works at a brick factory on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, March 8, 2010. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)
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    Dancer performs on a float during Viradouro samba school parade at the sambodrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Feb. 28, 2006. (Andre Penner/AP)
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    Nepalese women shelter under umbrellas as they work to remove weed from a paddy field in Chitwan, about 44 miles southwest of Katmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Aug.1, 2010. (/APGemunu Amarasinghe/AP)
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    A North Korean woman works at the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang textile factory, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Wong Maye-E/AP)
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    In this Wednesday, March, 5, 2014 photo, Afghan women boxers practice at the Kabul stadium boxing club. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)
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    An Indian female laborer works at a brick factory in Allahabad on March 7, 2013. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Pallaqueras, female gold miners, search for gold on a load of waste rock from the gold mines on Aug. 4 2012 in La Rinconada, Peru. (Jan Sochor/Latincontent/Getty Images)
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    A Bedouin woman of the Al-Qiyaan tribe stands while working outside her house on Dec. 5, 2013 At the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
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    A woman working on her wooden weaving loom in the countryside of Bhutan. (Andrew Eio/Getty Images)
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    Mandy Diehr, employee of the Landgut Pretschen farm, checks the maturity of chicory plants on Jan. 2, 2014 in Pretschen, eastern Germany. (PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Students in the nutrition technology department working on acid base volumetric analysis at the Beuth technical college on Oct. 31, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. (Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images)
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    A female engineer hand-builds a M157 5.5L V8 bi-turbo engine at the Mercedes-AMG engine production factory in Affalterbach, Germany. (Tim Graham/Getty Images)
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    An Akha Hilltribe woman picks Oolong #17 tea leaves during a harvest at the Suwirun Tea farm in the hills outside of Chaing Rai Nov. 11, 2012 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
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    Portrait of American artist and illustrator Tara McPherson in her studio in New York, on Aug. 24, 2013. (Joby Sessions/Computer Arts Magazine/Getty Images)
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    A Cuban woman works in the H. Upmann cigar factory on Feb. 26, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. (Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photo/Getty Images)
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    Liu Shujian, a 90-year-old lady, continues her electro welding work at Wanshousi Street on Dec. 5, 2014 in Shenyang, Liaoning province of China. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
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    A woman works at a plant of porcelain manufacturing society JL Coquet in Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat near Limoges, France on July 5, 2013. (MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Batik craftswomen apply melted wax to fine cotton textiles to produce characteristic figurative designs at a workshop in Solo city in Central Java, Indonesia on June 29, 2009. (ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Indian actress Vemi Rephung from Nagaland (C) takes a break during the shooting of a song sequence on the sets of the forthcoming Bollywood movie - "Go Goa Gone" at Filmcity in Mumbai on April 8, 2013. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Women working in a ginger and spice factory, selecting ginger roots in the Fort Cochin area on Nov. 23, 2011 in Cochin, Kerala, India. (EyesWideOpen/Getty Images)
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    A woman distributes salt in Baie des Moustiques, Port de Paix in Haiti on April 3, 2014. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Palestinian woman Amal Abu-Rqayiq works at her small carpentry work-shop in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza City, Gaza on March 8, 2014. Amal is a 40-year-old divorcee and working in a male-dominated profession to help raise a daughter with special needs. (Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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    A young African woman at work in the fields, watering crops just outside Bangui pictured on March 13, 2014 near Bangui, Central African Republic. (Thomas Koehler/Photothek/Getty Images)
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    Workers handle rubber sheets as they pass through a rubber sheet washing machine at the Thai Hua Rubber Pcl factory in Samnuktong, Rayong province, Thailand, on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
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    An employee of the Lemaitre Demeestere company works with a linen loom on April 16, 2013 in Halluin, northern France. (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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    An employee stands in front of bottles at a winery in Tbilisi on Feb. 11, 2013. (VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Women taking part in a cash for work program run by the French non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger to build dikes to hold water pose on March 21, 2012 near the village of Palboa, 300 kms northeast of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. (RAPHAEL DE BENGY/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Day laborers carry bananas during a harvest in a field in the district of Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, India, on Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. (Sanjit Das/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
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    Cristina Isidro Salazar (left) and Felicitas Contreras Santiago repair their truck so they can deliver wood to construction sites around town on Oct. 30, 2006 in the town of San Pablo Huixtepec, Mexico. (Dana Romanoff/Getty Images)
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    An Indian woman works collecting salt in the salt pans near Dhrangadhra, Gujarat. (Malcolm Chapman/Getty Images)
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    Mahboubeh Khoshsolat, one of the only women's fire and rescue units in the Middle East, slides down the fire pole at Fire Station No. 9 Oct. 5, 2005 in the city of Karaj, west of the Iranian capital Tehran. (Scott Peterson/Getty Images)
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    Women pose on a shea butter production line for the French cosmetics company L'Occitane in Leo, south-central Burkina Faso, on Jan. 24, 2014. (LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Photo taken on January 22, 2014, shows women working on a carpet in a tiny factory in Kostandovo, a small village in Bulgaria's southern Rhodope mountains. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
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    A Pakistani woman potter gives the final touches to earthen pots at a workshop on the outskirts of Lahore on June 9, 2011. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
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    A picture taken on July 8, 2013 shows a woman working on a wind turbine at a plant of Gamesa in the Northern Spanish village of Aoiz, Navarra province. (RAFA RIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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    An Iraqi woman works to collect salt from a water course near Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. Wednesday, March 25, 2009. (Alaa al-Marjani/AP)
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    Bedouin shop owner, Farawna Nasra Abu Adjin, 50, fashions a pillow by hand in her workshop started with a micro-finance loan from the Sawa Group, in the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat on Aug. 6, 2008
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    DIMITAR DILKOFF via Getty Images
    This picture taken on January 22, 2014 shows women working on a carpet in a tiny factory in Kostandovo, a small village in Bulgaria's southern Rhodope mountains. (DIMITAR DILKOFF via Getty Images)
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    Sayed Khodaberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
    First woman taxi driver of Afghanistan Sara Bahai works for the women who aren't allowed to use taxis without their first degree men relatives. Balkh, Afghanistan, August 23, 2014. (Photo by Sayed Khodaberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)