Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Refugees: Iraq - making art, not war

United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCR) - An Iraqi/American Mural Project Fosters a Culture of Peace through Children's Artwork

The Statue of Liberty stands in solidarity with a golden-yellow mosque. An Iraqi flag flutters in the distance. A flock of birds flies across the bright blue sky.

Where can you find these idyllic images all in one place? On a collection of murals by Americans, local Iraqi refugee children, and students from a school in Baghdad. The artwork is a part of the Iraq Art Mile (IAM), a creation of the Iraqi Children's Art Exchange.

What we are doing not only connects children to their own community, and across culture to their new home community, but to youth and children around the world," said Claudia Lefko of the Iraqi Children's Art Exchange. "Everyone becomes part of a global effort to amplify and focus on the voices of youth and children."

It all started last October when children from some 20 Iraqi refugee families -- resettled by USCRI's Albany field office -- got together at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY. They created brightly-hued acrylic-on-canvas paintings under the supervision of Thamer Dawood, a visiting Iraqi artist, and Matt Mitchell, an artist based out of Amherst, Mass. A group of local skateboarders funded the project and organized a SK8Boards for Good competition to raise money for Iraqi refugees.

Following their footsteps, a group of youngsters from Voorheesville, Niscayuna, Albany, and Chatham joined forces in the spring of this year with recently-resettled Iraqi children to create two large murals and demonstrate how art transcends cultural barriers. All the participants hoped that expressing their thoughts and feelings through images and color could help refugees tell their story to their new American neighbors.

The murals are part of a large international project, The Art Miles Murals, started in support of the UNESCO Decade of Peace and Non-violence Among Children of the World: 2000-2010. More than 5,000 larger-than-life murals painted by children from around the world will be on display in the United States and the Middle East until they reach their final destination, Egypt, in September 2010—marking the end of the Decade of Peace...and hopefully the beginning of a new one.

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