Gallery Refugees

Adrift in the World

Helen Zughaib, Syrian Migration Series

When the “Arab Spring” began in late 2010, there were high hopes for change in the Middle East. Optimism abounded. As the months and years have gone on, this “Arab Spring” has devolved into a hideous war in Syria displacing millions, and over five hundred thousand deaths and no end in sight, causing massive displacement and migration of over 13 million refugees fleeing their home.

In my most recent work, I have created a series of forty three paintings inspired by the narrative paintings of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series from 1940-1941. I call my series “Syrian Migration Series.” In the paintings of Jacob Lawrence, these were stories of injustice, struggle, violence, change, hope and even beauty. I also paint the parallel stories of Syrian refugees fleeing war, starvation, chemical attacks, and unjust imprisonment. Like his work, I also show the dignity, beauty and perseverance of people fleeing in hopes of a better life. In my series, I follow the initial uprisings of the Arab Spring, and its aftermath, through the Syrian war and subsequent displacement of millions of people and following refugee crisis. (continued below)

Syrian Migration Series 14, Helen Zughaib
Syrian Migration Series 11, Helen Zughaib
Jacob Lawrence, African-Americans leaving the Jim Crow South | The Phillips Collection
Syrian Migration Series 31, Helen Zughaib

My work is ultimately about creating empathy. Creating a shared space for introspection and dialogue. I ask the viewer to see through someone else’s eyes, to walk in another’s shoes. To accept the “other.” To reject divisiveness. To promote acceptance and understanding and to reject violence and subjugation of anyone anywhere. To give voice to the voiceless, to heal, to reflect in our shared humanity.

The war in Syria continues today, raging on in Idlib near the Turkish/Syrian border, creating one million newly displaced refugees seeking shelter. In the midst of this ongoing tragedy, the Covid 19 pandemic has also taken hold in the massive camps and shelters, crowded to beyond capacity, with no running water and unsanitary conditions that help to further spread the virus.

This series of work is ongoing.

Each painting in the Series is 12 x 18″, gouache on board, (c) Helen Zughaib

Syrian Migration Series 13, Helen Zughaib

more work on displacement…

Bansky, Migrant Child with Flare

Located in Venice’s Dorsoduro district, the stenciled mural depicts a young migrant child wearing a life jacket and holding a pink flare, calling attention to the global refugee crisis.

Benny Andrews, Trail of Tears, 2005

Oil on four canvases with painted fabric and mixed media collage. © 2019 Estate of Benny Andrews Photo| Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

The Trail of Tears was a series of forced displacements of approximately 60,000 Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw people between 1830 and 1850 by the United States government. Part of the Indian removal, the ethnic cleansing was gradual, occurring over a period of nearly two decades.

Liu Xiaodong, Refugees 4 (2015)

This painting depicts Syrian refugees at the port of Lesbos gathered together in a moment of rest. 

War in Ukraine, (digital artists unknown)

The escalation of Russian aggression in Ukraine has killed many civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety, protection and assistance. In the first six weeks, more than four million refugees from Ukraine crossed borders into neighboring countries, and many more have been forced to move inside the country.

How many refugees are there around the world?

At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, climate, or persecution. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.

There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement.

1 in every 95 people on earth has been forced to flee their home .

There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating that even more people will have to move as a result of adverse conditions, including conflict, climate and persecution. The World Bank has put forward projections for forced migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, especially if no climate action is taken.

About Helen Zughaib 

Helen Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, living mostly in the Middle East and Europe before coming to the United States to study art at Syracuse University, earning her BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Helen currently lives and works in Washington, DC, as an artist. She paints primarily in gouache and ink on board and canvas. More recently, she has worked with wood, shoes, and cloth in mixed media installations.

Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States, Europe and Lebanon. Her paintings are included in many private and public collections, including the White House, World Bank, Library of Congress, US Consulate General, Vancouver, Canada, American Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, the Arab American National Museum in Detroit, Michigan, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  Her paintings are also included in the DC Art Bank Collection and she has received the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Fellowship award each year since 2015. Her work has been included in Art in Embassy State Department exhibitions abroad, including Brunei, Nicaragua, Mauritius, Iraq, Belgium, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and Sweden. Helen has served as Cultural Envoy to Palestine, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia. The John F. Kennedy Center/REACH, in Washington, DC, has selected Helen for the 2021-2023 Inaugural Social Practice Residency.  Her paintings have been gifted to heads of state by President Obama and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.


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