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March 1, 2019

Helen Zughaib: The Arab American Artist Painting The Syrian Crisis— Until It Ends

Helen Zughaib is keeping the Syrian migration crisis in the spotlight through a series of paintings.

‘The Syrian Migration Series’ is comprised of multiple panels portraying the human cost of the war in Syria. It follows a chronological path, charting the ongoing displacement of Syrian people from the start of the conflict to the present day.

The brightly coloured panels begin with the Arab Spring and the peaceful uprising against President Bashar Al Assad in 2011, before conveying the risks almost 13 million Syrians took to escape the war unfolding in their home country.

Zughaib plans to keep the project going until the war comes to an end.

The paintings, all of which feature a sentence-long caption describing the visual, pay particular attention to the conflict’s most vulnerable victims: women and children.

“When war happens, usually the men are gone, or they’re fighting, or they’re dead, and [they] leave the women and the children to pick up the pieces,” Zughaib explained to AJ+.

The artist, who lives and works in Washington D.C., harnessed her own migrant experience as a way to commence the project. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Zughaib and her family were forced to flee the country following the outbreak of the civil war in 1975:

“I can definitely identify with the idea of forced leaving, because none of us wanted to leave Lebanon,” she said. “And when we left, [my father] said it was for a week….And then that week was 35 years later.”

Zughaib’s work is based on Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series, a 60 painting project, completed in 1941, that depicts the difficult migration of African Americans in the 1900s from the American rural South, where they faced enormous racial oppression, to the urban North, where opportunities in booming industry lay ahead.

“For me, this also was a very direct relation to the Syrian migration in terms of them trying to cross borders and being met with resistance and refusal.”

The parallels are clear, as is the message: upheaval, persecution and displacement are nothing new; and it takes only one switch of fate to impose them on a new group of people.

‘The Syrian Migration Series’ is currently on show until 8 March 2019 at the Jerusalem Fund in Washington D.C.

For more information about the exhibition, head to the website.


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