Channelling refugee voices through art


Paintings by refugees on display at the exhibition.– Photos: LOW LAY PHON/The Star

A SPECIAL art exhibition provided a platform to amplify the voices of refugees living in Malaysia.

The two-day exhibition themed “Bridging Borders” at the East Residence of the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club featured 120 art pieces by 13 refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Pakistan and Syria.

It was organised by non-governmental organisation Greater Action.

Its founder Julie Das said the exhibition provided a platform to motivate the artists, offering them a chance to showcase their creations and freely express their emotions through their art.

“There are many sad stories behind their art.”

She said their artworks were available for sale in this exhibition and the money would go to the artists.

“This exhibition builds confidence and faith among refugees and allows them to be independent,” she added.

Self-taught artist Laila, 18, from Myanmar said she started to paint during the pandemic, adding that it was her second time participating in an exhibition.

Susan from Afghanistan said her art depicted the experiences of women in her homeland.

“My art aims to raise awareness of the situation in my country,” she said.

Kinza, from Pakistan, said she used mostly acrylic for her paintings.

“As a teenager, I encountered insecurity and imperfection in my life. We are perfect and beautiful inside but most of us don’t see it, so I want to tell people, through my art, to not neglect their inner beauty,” she said.

But there were a few that featured some darker themes.

“When you explore the world alone, people tend to stab you in the back. This depicts the other side of human beings,” Kinza added.

Masuma, 28, another artist from Afghanistan, likes to draw when she feels sad.

For her, art is not only a means to provide financial support to her family, but also a way to voice the pain of women who are suffering in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Zahra, also from Afghanistan, often likes to use birds and wings in her art to represent freedom.

The exhibition, which ended on Nov 19, also showcased products from Greater Action’s Upcycled Tailoring Project.

A range of products handcrafted by its team of skilled Afghan refugee women were on sale.

All the products, such as tote bags, laptop bags, handbags, pouches and pillow covers, were made entirely from used materials.

“We have 10 tailors who are all refugees, and we offer them a full-time salary so they can pay for their rental and living expenses,” said Greater Action executive director Pauline Bourquenez.

“We really want them to be self-sufficient and independent,” she said, adding that the organisation’s tailors, bakers and administrative staff were all refugees.

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