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Painting out the Trauma

Delving into the True Beauty of Art

Globally, the refugee crisis is occurring at an unprecedented scale.

Within the last decade, the number of migrants has increased more than 300%, meaning every one out of thirteen people in this world is a refugee (Aljazeera). They have no choice. Millions flee from war, political oppression, violence, poverty, child labor, and other unimaginable, devastating grounds, hoping for safety, acceptance, and opportunity. Yet, this tragedy is provoking significant repercussions, in which painful trauma is leaving dark emotional wounds for the refugees, including children in the long-term.

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Refugee Child (MEE/Andrea Dicenzo)

The most endemic mental disorders faced by refugees include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, prolonged grief disorder, and other anxiety disorders, along with developmental and intellectual hindrances for children. As a result, severe mental health crisis for the refugees is calling for greater efforts in developing effective psychological therapies that can attend to the multiple traumas of torture, rape, and war.

Recently, the field of art has been shedding light in transforming the lives of refugees. Through creative means, art therapy encourages non-verbal communication between refugees and therapists, a powerful way of overcoming language and cultural barriers, and allowing refugees of all ages to freely explore and express their emotions—a way to fight back the frightening memories of trauma.  

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Anita Toutikan guiding children (Knefel)
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Art therapy in Lebanon (Knefel)

“We are not teaching art here, and we are not doing full therapy…We are offering them the opportunity to express themselves freely, without judgment, without evaluation of their work,” proclaimed Anita Toutikian, an artist/psychologist working in the Lebanon Barja Technical school (Knefel). Each day, Syrian refugee children randomly burst into Toutikian’s two hour long art sessions in Lebanon, where they paint out their diverse stories, or even “brightly colored landscapes full of sailboats, cars, and trees” (thenation).

But, it’s not just Toutikian who is venturing out to show the refugees a new life out of terror through art.   

  1. Castle Art in Akre, Donguk

Saddam Hussein’s once devastated prison of terror in Iraq is now filled with Syrian refugee children, twinkling with their bright smiles, joyfully holding up their colorful paint brushes.

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Castle Art Brightens up Children in Akre Camp (Robinson)

The Akre camp known as the “Castle” is a prison building symbolic of the dictator Hussein’s crimes against the Kurdish people. But now, its derelict walls have become beautiful canvas boards for passionate children.

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Funded by the Rise Foundation, the “Castle Art Project” provides children with spray cans, rollers, and paint once a week. With these scarce materials, a breathtaking mural has been formed—in place of once bleak paintings of war, weapons, and death, the wall is now filled with vibrant landscapes of flowers, birds, handprints, and people. Moreover, street artists like Banksy have volunteered to teach the children various mural techniques, including the usage of corridors, cracks, and staircases as a part of the canvas.

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How art has changed Deana’s life (Robinson)

“When I’m involved in Castle Art I am happy. I used to draw as a child,” expressed 15-year-old Deana who is now dreaming of attending art school one day.

  1. Art Photography in the Kawergosk Refugee Camp

“I want to learn photography because I believe that with it, everyone can see what I feel and how we live,” voiced out Maya Rostam, a 12 year-old refugee, who had been participating in Reza’s Exiles Voices Project.

The renowned photojournalist Reza had traveled to the Kawergosk Refugee Camp in Kurdistan, Iraq, and his photography workshop for children “The Exiles Voices Project” has finally developed into a five-year joint project with the UNHCR.

Displaced children whose lives were torn apart by the violent Syrian war have managed to capture the astonishing beauty, happiness, sincerity, and child-like innocence within the camp; a miracle against all the odds. At the same time, underneath the playfulness and simplicity of children shown in the photos, radiates great power, revealing the true reality of the camp situation—frozen shoes, lack of food, and unhygienic condition.

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Photographer Reza and the Refugee Children (Maptia)

Ultimately, the culmination of the children’s photos and Reza’s portraits in the camp have made it to the Paris exhibition last year, inspiring people across borders.

3) The Za’atari Project

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Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp (JoelArtista Blog)

There is not a single hint of animal or vegetation in the harsh region of the Za’atari camp located in northern Jordan. A cruel, deserted wasteland filled with endless rows of tents and caravans, along with the extreme sunlight and dust storms, it is the second largest refugee camp in the world with more than 80,000 inhabitants.

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Mural Art Created by the Artists and Children (JoelArtista Blog)

But the Za’atari camp is now filled with color that contrasts with the utter bareness of the region. Since 2013, the world-travelling street artist Joel Bergner partnered with a team of artists and educators from aptART, ACTED, UNICEF, ECHO and Mercy Corps, leading a series of workshops for children, who not only learn about water conservation or hygiene issues in camp, but were also given the opportunity to participate in mural art.  

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“Dozens of children had the opportunity to participate and add their own creativity to murals that they created throughout the camp, adding color and life to the desolate environment and spreading messages of hope to camp residents” —Joel Bergner 

Likewise, the power of art has proved remarkable in not only raising awareness outside the globe, but also in changing the lives of many refugees. Whether it’s photography, film, or painting, the huge variety of creative mediums encourage refugees to express themselves and realize their boundless potential.  

– Sammie Kim 18′

Featured Image from JoelArtista Blog

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