‘Stamps of Hope’: Artwork By Syrian Refugees Comes To LLCC

Oct 24, 2019

A traveling exhibit showcasing artwork by Syrian refugees living at the Zaa'tari refugee camp in Jordan is now open in Springfield.

Riham Sawah, assistant physics professor at Lincoln Land Community College, brought the artwork from Jordan. She said the paintings and drawings capture the hopes and dreams of those displaced by the Syrian war that began in 2011.  Some of the artists used pieces of canvas cut from tent fabric for their work, while others used materials such as newspapers and cardboard.

A traveling exhibit showcasing artwork by Syrian refugees living at the Zaa'tari refugee camp in Jordan is now open in Springfield.
Credit Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Sawah said the UN Commission and International Relief and Development Organization noticed the art and began to provide materials. 

Most of the paintings in the exhibit portray faces. The images of faces is what draws people in, said Sawah. "And they really portray the eyes very nicely, that you can't help but feel as if you are standing in front of the human being."

Sawah points to one drawing of a girl who fled her home and left her pet bird behind. "The pet is a piece of herself that she left behind-- something that she was very passionate about and is no longer accessible to her. And it is very well portrayed in her eyes."

Artists like Mohammad Amari is trained in art, while others are learning inside the camp. The group holds art workshops at the camp's Circle of Jasmine studio.

Most of the paintings in the exhibit portray faces. The images of faces are what draws people in, says Sawah. "And they really portray the eyes very nicely, that you can't help but feel as if you are standing in front of the human being."
Credit Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Sawah, who is from Damascus, Syria, said the exhibit is very close to her heart.

"I definitely feel the estrangement from home that the artists portray in some of their paintings," she said.

Other than hope, the artists want to send a message of peace through their artwork, Sawah said. “They have a vision of a future that would include new hopes and dreams for their children.”

Sawah said she would like the community to come out to the exhibit. "And not just see it with their eyes but experience it with their heart," she said. 

The exhibit will kick-off in Springfield and travel around the country for the next five years. It is sponsored by the Midwest Institute for International and Intercultural Education (MIIIE) based at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan.

The art is also for sale. All of the profits will go back to the artist and their families. More of the art can be seen in the group’s Facebook page.

An opening talk will take place Thursday, Oct. 24 at 5:30-7 p.m. in the Trutter Center on the LLCC Springfield campus, 5250 Shepherd Road. The talk will be followed by a gallery tour and reception featuring Middle Eastern cuisine.

The exhibit runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 14.