While dozens of refugees escaped the brutality of life in their homelands, running after aslym in Egypt, some left behind a life in which enriching colours only took place in their art and paintings. Settling on the land of the Pharaohs, their main target was to fit in society, finding an appropriate source of living and starting over, letting go of a life that was mainly destroyed by armed conflicts. Little did they know that their passion for art is to see the light again with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) Beyond Borders exhibition.
The Beyond Borders project is an art exhibition for refugee artists. In its second year, the exhibition offers a platform for refugee artists to express themselves, introduce their homelands to public and depict the journey they had to go through in order to reach the place they currently stand at.
This year’s edition took place at Maadi’s Art Cafe. For three weeks, the exhibition opened a window for the general public to come and gain perspective on the world of 22 refugees from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and South Sudan.
“Our main target is giving talented artists the chance to promote their name and art pieces, get an opportunity to sell their work and find other opportunities, other than selling paintings, such a teaching or making other artistic products, in addition to expanding their opportunities to generate income,” said Christine Beshay, UNHCR’s Communications Officer told Daily News Egypt.
She explained that the main struggle facing refugee artists in Egypt, is to place a footprint in Egypt’s world of art, elaborating that “they don’t know how to enter the market in Egypt or to promote for their art works. [That is why] Since last year, we decided to support those who have talent and skills and to facilitate their access in the market. We were keen on forming a network of refugee artists, along with some Egyptian artist, also, creating a space for experiencing exchange.”
Throughout the platform, the commissioner seeks to create a network of connections for the artists through which they get to “improve and expand their work, as well as gain access to the market and promote their artworks.”
Throughout the 72 showcased paintings, one gets to see through the artists’ hearts. Capturing their homelands in colourful, bright pigments, showcasing scenes of dancing and celebrations; the portraits left nothing but contentment in one’s heart, which soon turns sore after seeing the darkness overcome the portraits representing another side of their lives.
“Most of the paintings were about the artists’ cultural backgrounds, expressing their feelings about their journeys, and outstanding scenerios from their home countries,” Beshay stated.
The prominent artists presented the culture of their homelands not only in colours and shapes, but also through food and music in order to fully introduce their culture to visitors, and let them see the beauty of the land away from the destruction and warfare they are introduced to through media outlets.
Beshay explained that through the exhibition, the UNHCR focused on professional artists, especially the ones with “educational background in the field of arts, or professionals with years of experience.”
“Some of those artists are already active, exhibiting their work in different exhibitions, others don’t have any access to the market and face many difficulties displaying them. This year we have targeted to give them a chance to display their pieces in an already well known exhibition space, where famous artists exhibit their work, to support the continuation of the scaling up of professionalism,” she explained.
A month before the start of the exhibition, the commissioner collaborated with Art Cafe in order to train the artists in a one-day workshop on how to prepare a portfolio, tips on how to get access to the market and promote their artworks.