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, and where his grandparents had made their way to after their village was taken by the Israeli military in 1948. The Yarmouk camp has since become the largest Palestinian refugee camp, and Basel grew up there with his parents and four sisters, only leaving to move to the United Kingdom to join his English wife in 2010.
With the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Basel’s parents have been displaced from their home in Yarmouk, and his four sisters have fled Syria completely, with three journeying to Sweden (via Turkey, Greece, and mainland Europe), and one other moving to Sweden after initially escaping to Lebanon and Egypt.
Having been born a refugee, he describes how ‘the feeling of not being at home is part of me’, and he carries this feeling into his work. In May 2021, Basel collaborated with live artist Tania El Khoury in a touring project titled ‘As Far As My Fingertips Take Me’, which sees Basel draw his story, and his family’s story, on the arm of an audience member through a hole in the wall, whilst they listen to a rap song based on the story of his sisters who fled from Damascus to Sweden. His artwork seeks to physically mark the audience member, memorialising the story of refugees on the arms of those who participate, with art and audio combined to create an all-encompassing experience.
He has further collaborated with El Khoury on a project titled ‘As Far as Isolation Goes’ which responds to the mental and physical experiences of those who have recently sought refuge in the UK, and which is fully online due to the Coronavirus pandemic.