A Refuge Of Art

World Refugee Day

“No one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land”
- by Warsan Shire, Poet

World Refugee Day is observed on 20 June every year to commemorate the courage, perseverance and resilience of millions of refugees around the globe. It is also one more day to reflect upon the strength of those who have fled, and the compassion of those who continue to stand in solidarity with them.

We at ArtsPositive, a non-profit, which believes in art-for-change, encourage artists who #DrawForACause. This June, our aim is to bring forth the stories of artists who had to leave their countries and discovered a refuge of art. We made an attempt to reach out to them to explore the significance of art in their lives.

There has been an increase in the number of ‘Art Therapy’ groups in Refugee Camps across the world that facilitate in realising the trauma suffered by the refugees, specially the children. And it’s also evident how works from artists based in these camps, seem to be having an impact on the rest of the world, that is far removed from anything these people endure. Artists are creating safe spaces and building up understanding and empathy towards their community through their art.

We spoke to one such incredible artist from the Beddawi refugee camp in Lebanon.

Artist Tania Naboulsi

Originally from Nablus city in Palestine, Tania Naboulsi is a warm and strong woman, who isn’t afraid to ask questions when it comes to standing for the rights of her community. Tania has painted a sizeable amount of murals that adorn the walls of her camp and is a well known member of the Palestinian Arabic Cultural Club in Beddawi. She works mostly with acrylic and pencils for both her murals and canvas paintings.

When I first viewed her artwork, I was intrigued by the rich imagery and symbolism that each of them pertained to. I would notice something new, every time I’d look at them. But what is most unique about her paintings is how they narrate more than just one story, blended together seamlessly with elaborate subject matter.

Talking about her background and passion for art, Tania says, “I have a license in Plastic Arts from the Lebanese University. I do have a sort of disability in my legs so I have artificial hips. But thanks to Allah, that has never stopped me from painting murals and I even get atop scaffolds, ladders and on top of car roofs to paint.”

‘Dabkeh’: Palestinian Traditional Dance Mural, Dabkeh as Tania calls it, is one among many of her works related to the history and culture of Palestine

About the painting ‘Dabkeh’ she says, “I did this mural while I was working on a project of 12 murals with UNRWA.” Her art portrays Palestinian culture through its traditional dance and costumes. “The moves”, she adds, “talk about the fight to return and the love for one’s native land.

‘The Eyes of Victory’ by Tania Naboulsi

I painted ‘The Eyes of Victory’ last year in May in the memory of two occasions AlNakba day (15 May 1948) and the AlTantoura massacre (22–23 May 1948). The woman in the center is my grandmother, holding the key of her house in AlTantoura village, where she was born and raised.”

“The story of a Revolutionist” by Tania Naboulsi

Her next work of art, she says with pride, was hung by the shore of AlTantoura Sea on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine for an event that happens every year in the memory of the massacre in May 1948. According to her, this annual showcase is a great honour.

When I asked Tania what she wants the world to know on this World Refugee Day, she said, “Being a refugee is not an easy thing to deal with. To be homeless, being treated as someone with no country, it’s like people are saying, you’re nothing. But at the same time, as refugees, we have developed a strong bond with our motherland and a stronger connection with people from our community. We’re survivors! We live on hope, faith and with a dream to return to our home, some day.”

Tania’s spirit is truly unbroken. Her strength is invincible and underneath an iron-willed nature lies a woman full of warmth. What makes her so endearing is how at the end of every email she writes to me, “if you need anything else, I’m Insha-Allah ready”. I believe that’s how she is always fearless to face and beat the next challenge in her life.

This World Refugee Day, let’s salute the courage of Tania and many like her, and take a pledge to stand #WithRefugees.


Image copyright @TaniaNaboulsi (https://www.facebook.com/ElkoufeyiTaniaArt/)

Writer Isha Bhattacharya for ArtsPositive