The Role of Art Within The Syrian Refugee Crisis

Updated: Aug 11, 2018

With the Syrian refugee crisis continuing to grow, prevalent figures within the art world are stepping forward and speaking out in support of those affected. Artists are using their work as a platform to further educate audiences within this issue. But at what point does art become exploitation of tragedy for personal gain?


Everything that we see regarding the Syrian refugee crisis is highly monitored and controlled by the media. Due to the nature of exhibiting the crisis through a screen, we have become desensitised to the harsh realities and our ability to connect on an emotional level has been manipulated. The role of art within refugee crisis, is to reconnect ourselves and create awareness and action.


Italian street artist, Massimo Mion, expressed his response on the refugee crisis by his thought provoking mural, “European Programme For Migration”. Mion raises social consciousness through his artworks, his mural combines innocence with despair. Depicting a young child playing a game of “battleships”.


Massimo Mion - European Programme for Migration (2015)

This motif of innocence is extremely prevalent within Abdalla Omaris’ painting and film work. Omari started his career as a full time artist represented by the Kane Gallery in 2012. Omari was then granted asylum in Belgium and currently lives and works in Brussels, where he began his infamous “Vulnerability” series. Omaris’ hauntingly beautiful film piece, “Liberteˊ” is an expressional filmwork, using the lens as a documentation tool, Omari paints a chilling experience through loose figurative painting double exposed with found video footage and a soundscape both “created by Syria”. He depicts a large crowd protesting, followed by the disruptive sound of gunshots and chaos. Omari slaps red paint over the crowd, creating a reality that is truly heartbreaking.



The Embassy For The Displaced is a network of filmmakers, programmers, fashion designers and architects, creating awareness and physically helping a lot of refugee people in need. As a collective, they created their filmwork, “Where Land Meets the Sea”. The artwork was created by 3D scanning in collaboration with “ScanLAB Projects”, a creative studio dedicated to digitally preserving temporary events and spaces. 3D scanning technologies can not only provide a very useful tool for volunteers on the field, but also present alternative ways of representing the crisis that is unfolding in front of our eyes. The Embassy For The Displaced technology choices accentuate the symbolism of the scans captured. There is no movement within “Where Land Meets Sea”, but it is heavily implied by using the lens as the way in which we travel the virtual landscape. The haunting 3D video highlights discarded life vests left behind by the hundreds of thousands of people who have passed through Lesbos on their way to Greece and other locations.



The chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has become under criticism for recreating the tragic image of the drowned three year old refugee, Alan Kurdi. Was this act populistic? Is the artist attempting to capitalize on the heartbreaking fate of a young child? Ai Weiwei's’ “The Odyssey” is a series of work combining photography and porcelain objects, shown in the exhibition, “Ai Weiwei on Porcelain”, Sakip Sabari Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. The name of the work alludes to the story of Homer's poem, “Odyssey”, that catalogues the perils of Odysseus journey around the Mediterranean Sea. Suggesting that the story of human migration and suffering playing out today is a cycle that has yet to be broken. The photographs of the artist shattering a porcelain urn are incorporated into the work, but within this context the meaning is transformed. The breaking of the urn can be seen as a symbol of destruction, but also it can symbolize an act of liberation. It suggests the possibility of shattering a cycle that is devastating life for so many.


Ai Weiwei - The Odyssey (2017)

If an artist gains personally from using the refugee crisis as their subject matter, is that as much of a concern if ultimately they’re making a positive impact by generating substantive discussion and action? Everything that we see in the media regarding the Syrian refugee crisis decides what is highlighted and what isn’t. Where as art allows an insight unlike any other. The role of art within refugee crisis is essential, as it gives back the human connection that media and screens have taken away.


Written by: Ciara Doherty

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