This Syrian Artist Is Depicting World Leaders as Refugees to Make a Very Important Point
Abdalla Al Omari’s “Vulnerability Series” is flipping the narrative on power and privilege.
In one image, Donald Trump, looking haggard and emotive, uses one arm to sling his daughter on his shoulder and the other to hold out a family portrait depicting him, his hijab-wearing wife, and their six children.
In another, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, doused in water, shirt buttons undone, tie-askew, holds an origami boat above his head, a look of muddled confusion on his face.
Then there are former US President Barack Obama, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among other world leaders, standing in line for rations, carrying empty tableware.
"The Queue," 2016
These jarring images depicting world leaders as refugees are part of a larger project by Syrian artist Abdalla Al Omari to humanize the refugee crisis by showing the vulnerability of world leaders.
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Called, fittingly, the “Vulnerability Series,” Omari’s exhibit is currently on display in Ayyam Gallery Dubai, United Arab Emirates and online on his website.
Omari, a Syrian refugee who now lives in Belgium, said the project began from a place of anger, but gradually evolved into a message of shared humanity.
"Francois et Nicolas," 2015
“Initially I was driven by my own experience of displacement and the anger that I felt,” Omari said in a video shared with Global Citizen. “I arrived to the paradoxical nature of empathy and somehow my aim shifted from an expression of anger...to a more vivid desire to disarm my figures, to disarm the characters, and to picture them outside of their positions of power.”
According to the United Nations, there are now more than 5 million Syrian refugees, with another 6 million internally displaced due to the conflict that has been ongoing in the country since 2011. They’ve settled in neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as European countries like Germany and Sweden, which received an estimated two thirds of all Syrian asylum claims.
But all too often, Omari said, the refugee crisis is merely reduced to these numbers.
“We see how the media depicts refugees, there is a lot of lack of personalizing these stories,” he said in the video. “If you would tell the story individually, you would connect to those people on a personal, basic level.”
Omari’s portraits are an attempt to capture this human angle, and force viewers to confront their own vulnerability, and in the case of world leaders, culpability.
“Maybe those leaders who are partly responsible [for] the displacement of the mass of Syrians...will feel what it is to be vulnerable when they see it in the mirror, when they see it in themselves,” he said.
The “Vulnerability Series” will be on display in Dubai until July 6.
"The Mediterranean," 2015