The European refugee crisis is one of the most talked about and re-occurring news stories of 2016. Political backlash against the rapid influx of refugees – from places such as war-torn Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan – has caused anonymous activists and prominent artists to hit back against their continuing dehumanisation.
Since the turn of the decade, street art has played a powerful role in social change and rejecting conformity. Artists like Skid Robot have used their work to bring attention to homelessness, while others, like these 4 creators, are supporting the rights of refugees through art…
Enigmatic high-profile street artist Banksy raised the bar with an interactive piece opposite the French Embassy, showing the tearful poster girl of Les Misérables next to a CS gas canister. The stenciled QR code adds an interactive dimension, taking smartphone users to a video of teargas being used in a raid on the Calais refugee camps earlier this year.
All of Banksy’s work revolves around social issues of some kind. His Dismaland exhibition last year was his most ambitious yet, described as a “festival of art, amusements, and entry-level anarchism.”
Among the park’s attractions was a small pond where visitors could take control of migrant boats. However, the remotes randomly switched which boat you were operating, highlighting the lack of control asylum seekers have over their destiny.
Mahmoud Salameh is a Palestine refugee from Syria who spent 17 months in Australian detention centres. During that period of time, he got involved in ‘The Refugee Art Project‘. This new opportunity allowed him to turn his skills as a cartoonist toward a serious personal subject.
Drawn from his personal experiences, his climactic piece ‘Syria’ imaginatively illustrates the innocent blood spilled by civil war. Mahmoud still resides in Australia and has become a fascinating figure in the subversive tradition of Arab political cartoons.
The Za’atari Project
This project aims to give a voice to the Syrian war’s forgotten refugee children. The Za’atari camp in northern Jordan is the world’s second largest refugee camp with approximately 100,000 residents. The mural below was a collaboration between the camp’s Syrian refugees and local Jordanian youth to promote harmony between the two populations.
Addressing the issues of substandard or no education at all and a lack of arts and culture in the camp, artist Joel Bergner traveled to Za’atari in 2013, 2014, and 2015. In partnership with a team Syrian refugees, artists, and educators and international organisations such as UNICEF, they led workshops teaching children about water conservation, camp hygiene, and conflict resolution.
Laila Ajjawi lives in a poverty-stricken and overcrowded Palestinian refugee camp and has found herself in one of the lowest rungs of Jordanian society. She uses street art – which is usually male-dominated – to paint murals of strong women, inspiring girls to “express themselves without the limits that society or community is trying to put them under.”
Her latest piece took a matter of minutes. Arabic letters overlay the veil of a girl with predatory eyes with a painted Quill by the girl’s side. Through her activism and art, she shows other refugees, young women, and girls that they can take back control of their lives.