The warden opened the gates of the prison and we entered, using colors as our currency. We shared a powerful day painting with bank robbers, smugglers and drug dealers, behind the bars, inside the prison, in the mountains of Northern Greece. At the end of the day we returned toHabibi.Works Creative Center to find that 30 stranded Iraqi refugees sat in the downstairs of Habibi.Works. Our temporary home, thanks to our hospitable German hosts, was for sleeping, painting, wood-working, metal work, cooking and entertainment all in one. From the darkness, looking into the illuminated windows, it appeared to be an international party, but as we entered we learned that these refugees had been transferred from a detention center to the front entrance of the Katsika Refugee camp earlier in the day, and upon arrival the Syrian Refugees recommended that they stay out as the conditions of the camp were far from suitable. Although it was tough to interact with people who were lost with no where to go, who spoke Farsi, for which translators struggled to communicate, it was beautiful to experience Spaniards, Germans, Syrians, Moroccans, Americans and a woman from Bosnia all working together in the middle of the cold night, to help our fellow humans.
Refugees throughout Greece are living in a constant state of transition, discouragement and anxiety, not knowing if they will be given asylum or deported back to the country they barely escaped. While creating compositions with the Refugees, who are blindly walking without a secure future, a sense of unity and belonging grows amongst the team of Refugee artists and friends alike, working together. With so much gratitude, AMAKA, the oldest art therapy NGO in Greece, invited mosaic artist Robert Markey and I to paint murals with Refugees all across Greece. First stop, Ioanina, a town beside a gorgeous lake in the North that reached -7 degrees C in the evenings. In fact, one morning I walked outside to begin painting and all of the brushes were frozen in a block of ice. Robert and I worked together for a week in Israel/Palestine last year; Robert made mosaics with both the Arab and Jewish youth on one wall, while Shira and I painted with the youth in the classrooms and on another wall. This trip we have decided to fuse the mediums into the same mural as there are incredible benefits of both methods. The beauty of the mosaic is that the participants get to break the tiles and from the broken shards create a masterpiece of symbolism and feeling. This method serves as a beautiful reminder that we can pick up the broken pieces of our lives, stop feeling like trash and victims, and manifest our dreams. It is often said that 1000 words can be painted into a single composition. It has also been said that painting was a form of art therapy in the “Cave Man” era, as the act of painting on the cave walls reduced the anxiety of survival. In any case the colors of love have been at work long before the written word.
Eight months prior a kind, introverted Syrian Refugee, who walked with a limp, could not even approach the topic about what happened to his leg. During the creation of the mosaics he decided to depict his bloody leg from the bomb that grows into a palm tree. This moment in itself made this entire trip worth it… and breakthrough moments continued everyday! We were blessed to paint with Afghani, Iraqi and Syrian Refugees, who lived in tents or containers across the street in the camp or in converted hotels in the surrounding area. We ventured to the refugee camp art show and recruited painters to join us. One Afghani artist asked to paint a face into the mountains. He was a self taught artist who had practiced for only two years and with a pen he had mastered human expressions; however, most of his portraits were sad. It was the first time he had painted on a wall and throughout two days we watched his growth in the evolution of painted woman. With every brushstroke her skin shined brighter, her eyes began to glimmer and the expression of the lips softened. “I have never painted beside other artist together. This is such a great experience! I want to paint walls everywhere now.” he said. Kawa, an awesome Syrian artist, and Toni, a Kurdish/ Syrian painter that loves art most in life, both painted faces onto the mountain landscape as well! On the side wall, I painted the laughing Arab woman, Robert painted the hand and the Refugees painted the birds, released to fly free! A true collaborative creation!
Between painting the inner courtyard with inmates at the prison, who depicted footsteps to freedom, and three sides of the Habibi Works warehouse creative center, during the first week of our project more than 60 square meters of wall were loved up with color by creativity and the hands that channeled it. The mosaic started on one side of the warehouse and the painting on the other and the styles tested the waters and merged slightly into one another. The Mosaics of Love and the colors of healing warmed the hearts, even in below freezing temperatures. Every wall holds new possibilities, inviting us to participate in the transformation of both our internal and external worlds. Stay tuned for the next week on the Greek Island of Lesbos!
A Big Thank you to the amazing team of Habibi Work for your determination (even with frostbite), love and hard work to enhance the quality of life for hundreds facing adversity! And for your kind hospitality, laughter and powerful conversations. Huge respect and love for the refugees and gratitude for all our time together! GREAT WORK!