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Portrait of Ahmad by Hannah Thomas

I am a 24-year-old artist based in London. I have a BA in Arabic and History and, through that, a deep interest in and love for the culture and the people of the Middle East. When I was living in Jordan, I organised art projects with Syrian refugees for UNICEF and UNHCR, and painted many of their portraits. Through these refugee portraits, I hope to convey something of our shared humanity, especially in the current tense political climate that seems intent on accentuating difference and fear.
I first visited the Calais ‘Jungle’ in December 2015, to volunteer as a translator. The inhumane treatment of the people stranded there shocked me profoundly, and I painted many portraits of the Calais refugees to share their stories.
In my painting of Ahmad I wanted to portray his remarkable resilience and courage, fleeing Aleppo and forced conscription into the Syrian army. The abstract background is an expression of the suffering he endured in the war in Syria. The gold pattern at the bottom of the painting is from the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, destroyed during the Syrian civil war in April 2013.
The translation of the Arabic text reads:
Can I cry enough phosphorescent tears for my people to know how I suffer on their behalf?
Mohammad Al-Maghut

I think if I got a hundred thousand people listening to my story – and if the portrait succeeds in changing one person’s attitude – then that’s a great achievement. And that’s it.
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