As a tribute to June 20 World Refugee Day, TRT World speaks to three artists from three countries that have been torn by war and displacement.
Amina Rwimo Hortence is Congolese by nationality and living in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She has been a filmmaker for the past four years and is co-founder of Exile Key Films, using the power of visuals to educate her community and give a voice to her people.
Hortence narrates the heart-breaking tales that led her to produce the award-winning film 'It has Killed My Mother', raising awareness about female genital mutilation, or FGM.
"I was working with those women who were survivors, I was there talking to them, I heard so many bad stories but I wasn’t able to see or explain to people what was happening –– I didn’t know how to do it. Now, I have got the power of talking through film," Hortence tells TRT World.
The definition of a refugee has been constantly challenged and shaped by the notions of migration in today's fast changing world. Politicians have used them to boost their populist rhetoric by portraying them as destitute or a burden upon their host countries and societies regardless of their skillset or contribution.
One of these unexplored areas of contribution is art and culture, many individuals use art as a form of expression, to deal with the harsh realities they have faced and to redefine the identity label given to them.
Hortence first started working in a hospital as a caseworker with victims of gender-based violence. It was during this time that the need to speak out about what was happening ignited within her.
"One day I was walking in the community, I saw a girl of 17 years, holding a baby she told me ‘this is my younger sister, my mother died giving birth to her due to FGM complications’.
I asked myself ‘Why? When will they put an end to this?’," she says.
It was one day in the camp, when she spotted people walking with cameras, that led her down the path of producing films as opposed to featuring in them.
"I was looking at them and admiring them. I didn’t know they had the power to educate. When I saw other students walking with cameras in the community, I wanted to do this," she says.
She credits Film Aid International, who are her family, particularly the women leading the organisation, for giving her hope, courage and self-belief on her own journey.
When asked why she chose film, she responds determinedly: "Film is very powerful. With film, even a young child or an old woman can understand. If you can screen to a large number of people who will get inspiration from the film, the message will go viral. They will talk about it in the community, everywhere they go, especially if it has been done by refugees. They never think that refugees have talent and passion and can contribute to their communities and societies."
Writing on the walls
Belal Khaled lives in Istanbul but was born in Khan Younis Refugee Camp in southern Gaza. Having grown up in Khan Younis, where the camp walls were full of graffiti, writings about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and returning back to the homeland, his eyes were opened to artwork.
"I am not an artist, I just do art. Anyone who says ‘I am an artist’, he has arrived at the end of the way. I am not at the end of my way," says Khaled, who is a senior videographer and photographer at TRT Arabi.
"I have been doing graffiti and have had a connection between the walls and myself since I was young. When I was 10 years old, I would take pens and draw on the walls," he explains.
The killing of 12-year-old Muhammad al Dura in the year 2000 had a lasting effect on Belal. The visuals of al Dura screaming as bullets fired by Israeli forces rained down and his father attempting to shield him with his bare body left the world speechless. Al Dura's killing became a defining moment of the second Palestinian Intifada.
"My mind and everything else was full of these pictures, I couldn’t forget these scenes and would draw them, I was trying to show what was inside of me," Khaled says.
His favourite piece of work is called Beside a Childhood, painted on the wall of Al Zafer Tower, which was bombed in the 2014 war. A mural 20 metres high, it is known as the biggest mural in Palestine. Completed in six days, it was inspired by the children Belal would see going to and from school every day.
"The girl is Gaza in a prison; the background is the colourful world that she dreams of.
It was symbolic of the child in Gaza, they dream to live a life like most of the kids around the world. We tried to deliver this message to the world. These kids need to be in a better situation," says Khaled.
This echoes his personal inspiration to change things in the city he grew up in, using art and graffiti to shift the nature of the city, from black to white, to a colourful city.
"When we grew up, we started to paint life. We painted hope and peace, even though we saw ourselves in the large prison," he says.
He has had no formal training in the arts, but has instead taught himself calligraphy and photography amongst other skills.
"If you live in Gaza you will teach yourself. There is no university teaching you art or photography, there is nothing to do. If you have a dream and you want to get to your target, you have to learn,’ he explains.
"My message until today is from a refugee to a refugee - I can connect with them because I have lived this life. I left my country and I carried the message from the prison with me. The motivation comes from my homeland. I am trying to be an ambassador through my art."
Between veils, feminism and patriarchy
Fatemah Hosseini is an Afghan woman photographer based in Iran. Her work focuses on depictions of women in the Middle East and Afghanistan. She currently teaches at the art faculty at Kabul University.
She connects to art as a form of expression, as an outlet to release pain, and started painting at the age of 14 to show herself, and what was going on in her mind.
Gender and identity are very important in her life and her work as an artist.
"All around the world, in my work I was judged because of my nationality. It is so important in my works because people know me as an Afghan woman before everything," Hosseini explains.
Art has given her a way to connect to her mother and grandmother’s stories and know the place she was born. She draws similarities between the stories of Afghani, Iranian and Tajek women, that the veils, clothes, feminism and patriarchy has an influence on all of their lives.
"As an artist, I think I can contribute to society, especially to the new generation of women, when the Taliban thinking is still alive there. The young generation need inspiration," she says.
Hosseini has been warned on several occasions whilst holding workshops on stage photography in Afghanistan that her work could put her life in danger.
Despite this, she continues on with a clear and simple goal.
"I want to show that Afghan women have beautiful faces, beautiful passions to show and it’s not just burka. For now, I can contribute as a teacher or inspiration to motivate them to work more in Afghanistan," she says.
The art piece she has chosen to share is Pearl in the Oyster.
For her, war goes beyond our understanding of bloodshed, violence and in the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban. The definition of war extends to gender inequality and the everyday danger women face in Afghanistan.
She speaks about how her art allows her to give voice to the problems women without burka face and how a negative conception about women still exists in Afghanistan.
"We went to that district. We wanted to show this is an Afghanistan for the modern girl. This is the woman between the men, who despite their wandering eyes, continues on her way," Hosseini says.
"I think art can show and allow you to express yourself, it is so pure, without any limitations."