Houston’s refugees celebrate new life through art

Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, to the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. A boat with 46 migrants has sunk Sunday in Greece and the coast guard says it is searching for 26 missing off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

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An art show featuring members of Houston’s refugee community has given new arrivals an opportunity to express themselves through their creations. Last October, the art show “Triumph of the Human Spirit” featured works from both professional artists and talented amateurs from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Cuba, and Yemen. YMCA International Services organized the art show and the silent auction of its pieces.

Houston has been a center for refugees arriving into the U.S. from their own troubled homelands. According to a report from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., Houston has taken in refugees at nearly double the national rate. Many of these refugees are artists seeking to escape political or religious persecution in their own country.

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Mohammed Baro wanted to be an artist in his native Syria. He and his parents escaped the country when Mohammed was eight years old. Many of his family members still live in the war-torn area. Today, he paints murals that reflect the sorrow and loss he feels for his family and his country. Most of these works are on display in his son’s west Houston restaurant, where he works as a chef.

Ammar Alobaidi, a former nuclear engineer in Iraq, now makes his home in Houston’s Galleria area. He makes abstract paintings in acrylics, inspired by artists like Dali, Mondrian, and Picasso. He says that his new life in America “gives me more power to create more beautiful things” that reflect themes of love, unity and “exchanges of generosity.”

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Although Texas withdrew from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program last year due to worries over security, groups like the YMCA International Services have stepped in to close the gap. The group provides refugees with access to job opportunities, government documentation, and living assistance. Some refugees go on to work with the YMCA and help newer arrivals with the adjustment process.

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