Rendering Hope: Responding to Displacement Through Art

“Death,” Lebanon / Syrian refugees A drawing from a young Syrian refugee at the UNHCR office in Tyre, Lebanon, drawn by a 9 years old boy. His parents and he were coming to Lebanon when an armed group stopped the bus and they robbed the passengers. / UNHCR / S. Baldwin

Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, attention has steadily shifted from the war’s impact on Syrians to the stress placed upon countries dealing with increasing refugee populations. Turkey, with 3.4 million; Lebanon, with 1 million; and Jordan, with 660 thousand refugees account for over half of the estimated 6.6 million displaced Syrians.

Yet these numbers do not include those from Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, and dozens of other war-torn regions. In short, there are millions of displaced people fleeing unstable countries, and how we think about these refugees is largely shaped by the politics and media of the countries where they relocate.

While photojournalists and non-government organizations (NGOs) document the challenges of refugee populations, the refugees are likewise chronicling themselves and using creative expression to respond to forced displacement.
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Aye Habibi — A.K.’s Hip Hop Tribute to the Minority Experience

Direction and production: A1 Productions

It is a late night, and Anand Kuchibotla, a.k.a. A.K., has left his friends after clubbing, a regular weekend ritual. The music wasn’t so great. He’s had one too many, and he should probably go directly home and into bed. But there is no one going home with him, nor is anyone there waiting there for him once he gets there. The night is kind of a bust.

He is hungry, and he decides to stop at a popular Middle Eastern shawarma cart in his East Village neighborhood. As he nears the cart run by a father-son team, his apprehension kicks in. They are wearing garments appropriate for praying in the nearby mosque and speaking Arabic. What will they think when a tipsy dark-skin guy stumbles up to them asking for food? They come from a culture that discourages drinking and encourages piety and clean living. Should he approach them? But his need for food overrides his concern, and he places his order.
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Life in a Refugee Camp As Seen Through the Eyes of Young Refugees

Ali Morad, 11 years old, self-portrait using a mirror. All images herein copyrighted by the respective photographers and Reza Visual Academy.

The astonishing number of people fleeing war in the past half-decade has caused increased editorial attention toward the complex circumstances and dire conditions of refugees, and much of this coverage presents them in terms of how they impact destination countries. However, Reza, an internationally acclaimed photographer, has placed cameras and photography training in the hands of young refugees, who produce astonishing images that let us understand displacement through their eyes, and at the same time, help them cope with being outcast by war.
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The Golem and the Jinni — Mythological Jewish and Arab Creatures Go Bump in the New York City Night

Helene Wecker’s first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, places two beings from very different, and at first glance, opposing cultural origins, in a turn-of-the-century Lower Manhattan arena. How they meet and who they become to each other are both impossibilities that can only happen in New York City. Chava, the golem, was created for an Eastern European Jew migrating to the United States by an isolated and mystical rabbi with a mastery of dark arts. She is transported in a wooden box by her new master, who she never really knows, because he dies halfway across the ocean. Ahmed, the jinni, finds his way to America in a copper container with a stopper. After centuries of imprisonment, he is chagrined to find himself unleashed in an unimpressive New York City. read more

Aziza Brahim’s Songs Remind Us of Decades of Refugee Life

And while we’re on the topic of refugees, let’s not forget about a four decade-plus ongoing refugee issue in Western Sahara that began following its 1975 independence from Spain and its subsequent struggle for nationhood against the Kingdom of Morocco. Aziza Brahim is a Sahrawi singer-songwriter who has spent most of her life exiled from her Western Sahara homeland, and she has not forgot. read more