This image drawn by Selwa Antoine, depicts her anxieties about being uprooted from her home in Iraq and the deep nostalgia she has for her past life. Aleppo, Syria (JRS)
Aleppo, 29 May 2012 - Tucked away in the heart of Aleppo, at Deir Vartan Centre, JRS organises specific activities for female refugees of all ages, living in and around Aleppo. In an attempt to combine recreation and increasing self-awareness, an art workshop was organised.

The four session workshop, held last February, sought to offer the women an opportunity to express their emotions and discuss daily issues they face, but often ignore, due to their situation as refugees.

Facilitated by JRS volunteer Gina Achji, participants explored the importance of self-expression through painting. Initially, the group was asked to analyse a number of paintings by Iraqi and Syrian artists to illustrate how the same images can be perceived differently, and how that perception is a reflection of one’s own circumstances or their emotions.

With the aid of musical meditation, they then shifted their attention to their current circumstances. The exercise opened their eyes to how their perceptions are so strongly related to their personal circumstances: their daily pressures, the constant duty to serve their families, and the uncertainty of our futures.

The session culminated with the women creating images using paint, pastels or coal sketches to capture the emotions that arose during the meditation. The group analysed their drawings. Each woman showed her drawing to the others and explained what it meant for her.

"We created an atmosphere of silence where it was possible for the women to express their own feelings. Through their drawings I was then able to discuss sensitive subjects with them", said Gina.

Many women depicted their houses in Iraq; some with green gardens, others empty and destroyed houses. The feeling of being uprooted and "on the move" was a recurring theme, as was nostalgia for the past. Fear of uncertainty, loneliness, sadness, stress, oppression and aging were also depicted in their paintings, in the form of trees without leaves or a black sun.

Selwa Antoine, a 69 year-old Iraqi woman from Mosul who has been in Syria for seven years, titled her drawing, Homesick.

"You can see my house and garden in Iraq. I’m in the middle, touching both… I wanted to express my strong attachment to this place. The chimney is closed, that means that nobody is living inside. We left the house when we came to Syria. I have never drawn or painted before… but when I did the drawing I felt it expressed my nostalgia", said Selwa.

Coping strategies. "Despite the war, the loss of my husband and all the problems of being in exile, I have a rich and fruitful life here", said one Iraqi woman.

A clear theme which came across was their strong belief in God. Their faith is their main support in life, especially in fearful and desperate moments.

The women felt they sometimes try to escape from reality by involving themselves in too many activities and doing useless things, rather than taking a moment to reflect on what happening around them. They agreed on the importance of recognising their own needs and not spending all of their time responding to the needs of others.

The women's daughters were invited to participate in the final session where they reflected on the generational aspects of the difficulties they face. The workshop on art became a tool to reconcile tensions and misunderstandings between them.

"I learned a lot of new things in this workshop. I had never heard about 'reading a picture' before. And I was always convinced I was not able to paint, but now I like it a lot. I like the idea of a relationship between a mother and her daughter based on trust and friendship", said 24 year old Iraqi woman, Nour.
Countries Related to this Region
Jordan, Syria, Turkey