I've been paying close attention to the "refugee crisis" happening the better part of this last year. There are many issues involved with this very broad and general title. Issues like: war, peace, hope, tragedy, future, past, present, individual, society, migration, boarders, terror, distance, economics, duty, family, and home. The situation is immense and immediate. I wanted to paint a mural to raise attention toward the notions of refugees, immigrants, migration, and borders.
One of my best friends and fellow artists, Max Ehrman, and I were talking about these issues one day and we began sketching. Instead of painting imagery depicting walls and borders, strangers and masses of people, we decided to direct the imagery to be more personal. We wanted real portraits of real people, in delicate bubbles of sky and stars, floating in the midst of linear lines that fade in and out, and a cloud of organic matter.
I began to research and quickly was in the midst of hundreds of images of refugees online. I wanted to be more specific. I narrowed my search to children, caught in the change of leaving their only notion of home. Then I came across 3 specific stories, from different photographers and projects.
5 year old Zein al-Houssein. "I need to live as other children and play football," he stated to photographer Alex Oberg. Zein fled Syria with his father and brother, and they are now in Turkey with the hopes of reaching Sweden. I found Zein's story on the National Geographic website in the article Intimate Portraits of Refugees: ‘We Don’t Want to Live in a War’ written by Anna Lukacs.
12 year old Nadia. She (on the right) and her 9 year old sister, Haseena, are the second generation of Afghan refugee girls to attend school. I found Nadia's story from the UN Refugee Agency's flickr page. The photograph of the sisters was taken by Sebastian Rich.
Unnamed girl from a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. I came across her image as part of the beautiful Dear World project, created by Robert X. Fogarty. The girl's photo was in the Dear World + Syrian Refugees article, which was made possible by partnership with CARE.
True, the world is different today than it ever has been, but we humans must not forget who we are as a species - social mammals who feel, think, imagine, and create. It is these unique traits and qualities that has lead to us circumventing the world and now reaching out into space looking for more. We are curious beings, and that is what has brought us to continually move around. The ideas of borders, boundaries, and division could be our most detrimental concept because it creates the notion of us and them. We are all one, and we share this world.
Here in the United States of America it is especially difficult to hear talk of exclusion and border walls. Is it really so easy to forget where we come from? The majority of our population is here because of immigrants, refugees, and those seeking a new way of life.
In our globalized world today, borders are a place of increasing struggle, hardship, and violence. In July, the UN‘s refugee agency said that 45.2 million people remain displaced from their homes due to worldwide conflicts - a 19-year high.
Many of these people are forced into these conditions due to conflict, economic, or environmental hardship, and would have never chosen to leave their home had they not had too. Most are looking for safety, for a chance, for a home. I hope this mural can offer a moment of reflection for those who come across it.