Reception for Exhibit of Iraqi Refugee Children’s Murals at Albany Public Library

Date(s) - Monday 03/23/2009
9:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Reception for Exhibit of Iraqi Refugee Children’s Murals at Albany Public Library Murals painted by Iraqi children and teenagers are currently on exhibit on the second floor of the Albany Public Library through March 27.

The public is invited to a reception at the library for the young artists on Monday, March 23 from 5 to 6 p.m.

In September 2008, young Iraqi refugees recently arrived in the Capital District participated in a one day mural painting workshop with American artist/teacher Claudia Lefko and Iraqi artist Thamir Dawood at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. They created five 36” x 50” murals on canvas depicting their thoughts and feeling about having to leave their beloved home country in a time of war and upheaval. Click here to check out “Don’t Forget Us: Iraqi Children,” a short video documenting the Sept. 08 mural workshop!

The young Iraqis who painted the murals are part of a community of about 75 Iraqi refugees who have been resettled in the Albany Capital District over the past two years. They come here mostly from Jordan, Syria and Turkey, where they fled to escape the violence of the war in Iraq. There are currently an estimated two million Iraqi refugees living in countries neighboring Iraq in the biggest refugee crisis in recent history.

Claudia Lefko is the director of the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange in Northampton, MA. In the last seven years, she has made two trips to Baghdad and two to Amman, Jordan where she and her Jordanian and Iraqi partners work on making art with Iraqi refugee children and their families. Each time, she takes art supplies and pictures created by children especially for other children. Thamir Dawood has collaborated with Claudia on a number of projects. He was born and educated in Baghdad. He fled with his family from Iraq in 2004. His work has been exhibited throughout the Middle East, in Japan and the USA. His web site is at

The reception gives the Iraqi refugees and American participants a chance to prepare for a two-day painting workshop, which is the next stage of the art project. If you’d like to get involved, check out Iraqi/American Mural workshop: “How Will They Know Us? Building a Culture of Peace”.

The final murals created from the Capital Region will be displayed in Egypt next year as part of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization “Decade of Peace and Nonviolence Among Children” international exhibit, The Art Miles Mural Project.

The exhibit if co-sponsored by the Albany Public Library, the Sanctuary for Independent Media, the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, USCRI and the Iraqi Refugee Project. The Iraqi Refugee Project is a coalition of Women Against War, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, Women’s Association for Family Affairs whose goal is to support the needs of Iraqi refugees locally and internationally through direct assistance, advocacy and education about the issue.

The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts, located in an historic former church at 3361 6th Avenue in north Troy, NY. The Sanctuary hosts screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds.

USCRI is a national refugee resettlement agency which is one of two resettlement agencies working in the Capital District.

The Albany Public Library is located at 161 Washington Avenue (between Lark and Dove Streets) in downtown Albany. For hours of operation check For more information about the exhibit call 518- 272-2390 or 518-441-0229 or check Contact: Susan Davies 518-392-9477 or Branda Miller 518-441-0229 or Maureen Aumand at The Sanctuary for Independent Media 3361 6th Avenue, Troy, NY 12180 (518) 272-2390,



Click here for Albany Public Library’s press release:


Click here to read the Times Union article about this upcoming workshop, 3/19/09, “Art, Not War.”

Times Union, “Iraqi Children make art from war”


The three Iraqi teenage girls show up at the library wearing red and 
black. The red, they explain, symbolizes the blood of dead Iraqis. 
The black represents the tears and sadness of their country.

Shahad Jassim, 18, Wead Jassim, 16, and Tethkar Ahmad, 15, are refugees.

They fled their war-torn country with their families within the past 
two years. They fled the scourge of dead bodies in the streets and 
bombed-out buildings. They fled what they felt would be their own 
certain deaths.

Now living in Albany, they aim to use art to educate the world about 
atrocities happening in Iraq and to express their hopes for peace. 
When they speak about their homeland, they can’t help but cry. Their 
art gives them a voice, and it seems to help. At least a little.

The girls are participating in the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, an 
international program based in Northampton, Mass. A collection of 
murals, created one day last fall by refugee children ranging from 
preschoolers to teens, will be on exhibit at the Albany Public 
Library through March 27. A reception for the young artists will be 5 
p.m. Monday.

The 14 Iraqi children who now live in the Capital Region completed 
four painted canvas murals in one day. There is a painting of a 
peaceful house before the war, a painting of a mosque, one of an 
Iraqi flag and a mural featuring the Statue of Liberty.

The Iraqi artists are big on symbolism. The black tears in one mural 
represent sadness, roses represent the souls of martyrs. A bird 
represents freedom and peace in one mural, and the complaints of the 
Iraqi people heading back to be heard by God in another.

In October, artist and teacher Claudia Lefko, a preschool teacher and 
the creator of the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, visited the 
Sanctuary for Independent Media to lead the one-day workshop. On that 
day, she coaxed the murals out of the children by discussing their 
stories of life in wartime, leaving their home country and resettling 
in foreign lands.

Now comes step two of the program. Next week, the Sanctuary will host 
a workshop where Lefko will guide 16 refugees and 16 American-born 
children to create murals that explain their different experiences 
and how they can work toward greater understanding and appreciation 
of each other.

Lefko often travels to the Middle East and throughout the United 
States to work with youth who have been displaced because of the 
Iraqi conflict. She takes the artwork from country to country to 
inspire the children and to let them know they aren’t alone.

“The goal is to use creativity and art to help make a better world,” 
said Branda Miller, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute director and co-
director of the Sanctuary for Independent Media. Miller helped 
arrange the art exchange. “Then these murals will go on tour, and 
other kids will see them and make murals there. It creates a dialogue.”

At the library earlier this week, the teenagers smile dutifully for a 
photographer, but start sobbing as soon as they sit down to talk with 
a reporter. For an hour, they recount the horrors that came with the 
U.S. invasion of their homeland.

Unlike some of the younger refugee artists, Shahad, Wead and Tethkar 
are old enough to remember the days before the bombs and the killing 
started, when they played in the streets and went to school without 
fear. They remember when the death began and suddenly found old 
friends becoming enemies as the country sank into violence and fear. 
They have had uncles, aunts, brothers and cousins who were killed, 
kidnapped or raped.

“People didn’t have to die,” said Tethkar, a ninth-grader who cries 
while she interprets for her friends. “We just want to live like we 
did before. We didn’t want to come here.”

This is what happens every time they talk about their experiences in 
Iraq, Miller said.

“These children don’t have a voice,” said Miller. “So anytime someone 
is willing to listen to them, all of this comes out.”

At the moment, making this art has been one of the only outlets these 
children have to take them out of their sadness and misery. Even 
their American-born schoolmates at Albany High School have been cruel 
to them, they said, treating them like the enemy or telling them to 
go back to Iraq.

Lefko will take all of the works to Egypt in September 2010, where 
there will be a gala celebration of the completion of UNESCO’s Decade 
of Peace and Non-Violence Among Children.

“It’s important for people in general and especially young people who 
have experienced a lot of trauma to express how they feel and be seen 
and heard and acknowledged,” said Susan Davies of the local Iraqi 
Refugee Project, which helped set up the workshop. “They need that 

For Shahad, Wead and Tethkar, the murals exemplify the kind of work 
they have to do to find some kind of inner peace. If it leads to more 
people seeing the horrors in Iraq as events that happen to actual 
people, rather than abstractions or just images in the news, it is 
worth it to them.

“We want to tell everyone what is happening in Iraq,” said Shahad. 
“Maybe they can help us.”

Danielle Furfaro can be reached at 454-5097 or by e-mail at 
[email protected]

On exhibit

The work of young Iraqi refugees who have participated in the Iraqi 
Children’s Art Exchange is hanging upstairs at the Albany Public 
Library main branch through March 27.

When: The library is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-6 
p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Albany Public Library main branch, 161 Washington Ave., Albany

Reception: 5 p.m. Monday at the library

Information: 427-4300

On the Web

For more information, visit the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange at 
http://www. and The Sanctuary for Independent 
Media at http://www.

On the Web

For more information, visit the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange at 
http://www. and The Sanctuary for Independent 
Media at http://www.