100 years of arty refugees
Marc Chagall by Oliver Jones
Chagall lived to the age of 97. In his lifetime, he was recognised as one of the great painters of the century. What was his secret?
‘If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.’ More here.
‘If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.’ More here.
Marlene Dietrich by Aaron James
America took me into her bosom when there was no longer a country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German - German in my soul. Marlene Dietrich. More here.
John Heartfield by Niamh Keegan
Between 1932 and 1933 Heartfield distributed his artwork criticising the Nazis during their rise to power as posters he put on the streets of Berlin. This gained him the attention of the Nazi Party and on the 14th of April 1933 the SS broke into his apartment as he packed up to leave. More here.
Josef Herman by Elena Montazemi Safari
Josef Herman was a Jewish-Polish artist. Herman fled from Poland to Britain during the mass persecution of Jews during the Holocaust in 1938. Herman settled in Wales, More here.
Eva Frankfurther by Joshua Low
Eva Frankfurther, a German Jew and a talented figurative painter, grew up as a refugee during this era of turmoil. At the age of nine, she fled with her family to England in the late 1930s to avoid Nazi persecution in Germany. More here
Johana Alexandra ‘LOTTE’ Jacobi by Holly Haynes
Johanna Alexandra Jacobi, known popularly as Lotte Jacobi, is recognised as one of the 20th century’s leading portrait photographers of major cultural personalities, as well as for capturing ordinary people in both her country of origin and adopted homeland. More here.
Robert Vas by Joshua Low
After the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Robert Vas, a BBC film director, sought sanctuary in the UK. He has made many seminal films. His first film, Refuge England (1959), depicts the day in the life of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in England. More here.
Ben Shahn by Isobel Lewis
The USA was gripped by a paranoid belief that threats to the status quo were somehow contagious and had ‘infiltrated’ art. One member of Congress, George Dondero, believed that ‘modern art is Communistic because it is distorted and ugly’. He even prompted an FBI investigation against Shahn, who monitored his studio and threatened him with deportation in 1952. More here.
Eva Jiřičná by Mia Taylor
Eva Jiřičná was initially part of an exchange programme and was asked to work for the Greater London Council as an architect. In August of 1968, Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia with 500,000 soldiers. Around 300,000 people feared for their lives, forcing them to flee. This meant leaving their homes, families, and the country of their birth. The crisis was named the Prague Spring. Its legacy echoed in the lives of its displaced artists across the world. More here.
Reinaldo Arenas by Priscilla Otero
Reinaldo Arenas, born in Cuba in 1943, wasn’t always a writer. At the young age of fourteen, Arenas joined the guerilla movements in support of Fidel Castro. ... He wrote his first novel Celestino antes del alba (Singing from the Well) in 1967 . More here.
Vija Celmins by Catherine Cibulskis
Vija Celmins is a celebrated Latvian American artist. Her family fled Riga in 1944, moving between displacement camps before eventually finding passage to the US in 1948. Celmins later revealed: “it wasn’t until I was ten and living in Indiana that I realized being in fear wasn’t normal.” More here.
Thich Nhat Nanh by Hope Chilokoa-Mullen
Exiled from his home country of Vietnam for 39 years, Nhat Hanh consistently advocated for non-violent solutions to conflict. His books and poetry offer wisdom on topics from grief to the climate crisis, and his legacy of engaged Buddhism has helped to share Buddhist teachings with a global audience. More here.
Hong Dam by Mia Taylor
Internationally celebrated artists have arisen from the depths of this tragedy. Hong Dam was one of them. Resettled in the UK, Dam fled Vietnam at eight years old. More here.
Bob Marley by Sofia Aujla-Jones
To many the name Bob Marley is notorious. Notorious for his contribution to reggae and the Jamaican cultural surgency in the 1960s, for his Rastafarian beliefs, and for his call for love, peace, and equality. However, not many also know that Bob Marley was a refugee. More here.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn by Lilya Stewart
Solzhenitsyn used his experiences as an outsider, expelled from his birth country and never quite at home in the United States, to comment on both regimes. His refugee status and political disillusionment enabled him to see past ‘East’ and ‘West’, and explore instead what it means to be simply human. More here.
Samia Halaby by Modupeoluwa Omitola
Over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or lost from their homes between 1947-49. This was over half of the pre-war Palestinian Arab population. Samia Halaby and her family were displaced to Lebanon. From there to the US. More here.
Ali Ahmad Said Esber aka Adonis by Ignacio Louzan
Ali Ahmad Said Esber, also known as Adonis, has been said to exert the same influence in the world of Arabic poetry as T.S.Eliot did in the world of anglo-saxon poetry. More here.
Isabel Allende by Francesca Liberatore Vaselli
Isabel Allende is one of the most well-known Latin American female writers. Now aged 79, she has published a multitude of fiction books throughout her life. What few know about her, is that she was also a refugee. Allende had to flee her country not only once, but twice. More here.
Rotimi Fani-Kayode by Alfie Davis
In 1967, the Nigerian civil war broke out, causing over 2 million civilian deaths and leading over 500,000 refugees to flee the country. Rotimi was one of them ... forcing his family to seek refuge in the UK. More here.
Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (MIA) by Saher Ali
After 26 years of bloodshed, destruction and chaos, the Sri Lankan government defeated LTTE in May 2009. However, by that time, it has left 80,000–100,000 dead, over 300,000 internally displaced and over 145,000 refugees. Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, (known as M.I.A) was one of these refugees. Her unique musical blends of rap and traditional Asian music ... More here.
Nabil Kanso by Eliott Rose
The Lebanese Civil War killed around 120,000 people, with one million fleeing the region. That is one fifth of the pre-war population. Kanso’s dedicated his life work to raising awareness of Lebanese and Middle Eastern conflicts. Art was both a political tool and a method to navigate his own grief. More here.
Mona Hatoum by Esther Coomber
Hatoum’s work has global significance and impact on both people and art itself. She has had solo exhibitions across the world, from Paris to New York. In 2019, Hatoum won the Praemium Imperiale, recognising her lifetime achievement in sculpture. Hatoum is a testament to the global influence that refugee artists can have. More here.
Mila Kunis by Hafeez Merali
As a child refugee, Kunis faced struggles in her early education, not knowing a word of English and knowing little about American culture. She has since said that it felt like “being blind and deaf”. However, she persevered, and her father enrolled her in her first acting classes at age 9, kickstarting her career. More here.
Lucian Freud by Henry Zeris
In 1922, Lucian Freud was born in Berlin and came from a Jewish family. In 1933, Nazi Germany began a more aggressive policy against Jews as Adolf Hitler rose to power. Freud arrived in England as an outsider and unable to speak the language as he began his education at Dartington Hall School. More here.
Mersiha Mesihoivc by Saher Ali
In the 1990's series of wars broke out in Yugoslavia (then known as the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia). The Bosnian war was considered one of the bloodiest ... Mersiha Mesihoivc was a Bosnian refugee who fled to Sweden in 1995. More here.
Wyclef Jean by William Chamberlain
At the age of nine, Jean immigrated to the USA with his family, developing his talent for music in school jazz bands and a teenage rap group. Major success came with the creation of hip-hop trio Fugees. More here.
Alek Wek by Sara Al Soodi
When the civil war started, Alek Wek was 9. Alongside her family, she fled the village. Later on, her mum only sent Alek and her sister to London, both unable to speak English. As she describes, when the war broke out, “Life as we knew it came to a devastating end.” More here.
Marjane Satrapi by Iurii Shliakov
Marjane Satrapi returns agency to refugees through her stories and shows how the victims of humanitarian crises experience political struggle and how they cope with it. More here.
Hanaa Malallah by Aniya Selvadurai
Malallah developed Ruins Technique while she was living in Iraq in the 1980s. Due to a lack of art material in war turn Iraq, she turned to items that were readily available in her immediate surroundings, such as burnt paper, torn cloth, barbed wire, splintered wood and bullets. More Here.
Ai Weiwei by Jack Bridgford
Since leaving China in 2015, Ai Weiwei’s focus has turned to the refugee crisis. Drawing from his dehumanising experiences as a child in exile, and a now a ‘high end political refugee’, Ai has sought to capture the plight of refugees. More here.
K'Naan by Hector Worsley
After reciting a poem at a UN convention criticizing their commitment to help Somalia, he released his debut album ‘The Dusty Foot Philosopher’ in 2005 to critical acclaim. More here.
Regina Spektor by Alison Tan
Before she was an internationally renowned singer-songwriter, Regina Spektor was first a refugee from the Soviet Union. At age 9, her family entered the United States, fleeing from anti-Semitic oppression in Russian society. More here.
Khaled Hosseini by Eloise Thompson
Best known for his novels The Kite Runner, a Thousand Splendid Suns, And The Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini is a best-selling author born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965. More here.
Ahmad Joudeh by Anna Zhukova
The outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 left many without a home and claimed the lives of half a million people over the past decade. Ahmad Joudeh was one of the children whose life was severely affected by the conflict. More here.
Michaela DePrince by Rose Poyser
In only 16 years, Michaela DePrince was able to go from neglected orphan to internationally successful ballerina. More here.
Kinan Azmeh & Kevork Mourad by Elena Montazemi Safari
Kinan Azmeh is a Syrian composer and clarinettist. Kevork Mourad is a Syrian-Armenian visual artist. In 2020, Azmeh and Mourad performed an audio-visual performance called Home Within. In this work, art and music create reflection on the Syrian revolution and its aftermath. Rather than following a narrative, the artists document specific moments in Syria’s recent history and reach into their emotional content in a semi-abstract way. More here.
Hanaa Malallah by Rioghnach Theakston
Hanaa Malallah is an Iraqi artist, researcher and educator based in London since 2006. She fled Iraq when faced with threats from one of the fundamentalist militia groups which managed to gain a foothold in her country in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. Malallah’s story is one of many, with an estimated 9.2 million Iraqis internally displaced or seeking refuge abroad as of 2021. More here
Itab Azzam by Rachel Rees
Azzam’s work embraces the refugee narrative. She was a producer of BBC2’s 2016 Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, a BAFTA-winning documentary that gave cameras to refugees to chronicle their treacherous passage to Europe. More here.
Basel Zaraa by Maebh Howell
Basel Zaraa is an artist and musician, who uses his experiences of being a refugee, and of coming from a family of refugees, in his work. He was born in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, founded in 1956. Now he lives in the UK. More here.