“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
--- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
Salam Shewakar -
Director of the Hope Academy of Art and Kids 4 Hope
I am expecting a great year ahead for the Hope Academy of Art. Life is never simple or easy here in this region, with every day bringing a new and unexpected challenge that we need to rise above, but as an artist and one who has grown up in the environment of suffering and trauma, I know well that art is a method of healing, and is a strategy for overcoming the pains and struggles of this time in history. I expect us to win. With correct vision I am sure we will.
I am blessed to have new dreams every year. Every year my vision increases. I see vision as a destination, with art as the vehicle to the destination. 2024 has just begun and I am filled with passion to make this a very worthwhile year for our academy and our students of whom I am very proud. Our students are all so different, different ages, some go to school, others have no schooling. Some have great talent that just needs an opportunity to be unleashed. Some see it more as personal therapy, a way of releasing their trauma and stress of being displaced and from the endless years of camp life. It is my job to identify where each student is in his journey and to help them to look again, look beyond, dream and discover their vision.
I remember how parents in the refugee camp literally laughed at us when we offered art classes to their children. They were wanting money for food, and we were offering art! I remember how students were scared of this new world, a world which held the possibility of color, not just the palette of camp colors or the death that ISIS brought to our community. Parents did not want their children’s time wasted by splashing paint on paper. Few saw purpose, few saw good, until they did. And when their eyes were opened, they allowed their children to really see that which is often invisible to the human eye.
2023 was a year of expansion. I offered to head up Kids4Hope, something entirely new for me, a wonderful work with orphans who are placed in local orphanages. One house is for children whose parents are imprisoned, mothers working on the streets, or have abandoned them. The other is for children whose parents were killed by ISIS. Two very different but wonderful groups. The art work that I have done with them is simple and colorful, both therapeutic and cognitive. It has taken time to build a close relationship with them, equine therapy and music have been two powerful mediums that have greatly helped coming closer and gaining trust.
This year I want to awaken the vision in them, the ability and gift to see with their spirits. I feel that they are now confident enough to express their dreams, for some to allow themselves to dream for the first time. I want to lead them into painting from their soul, using music as a gentle background and stimulation. I believe that these young kiddies have the same spirit as our teenagers and can respond to art in the same way, maybe in a more profound way even. It will be an interesting and exciting journey of discovery, one that will lead to hope and victory.
With the opening of the school year in September, we began a new program, one of community service this year focusing upon the local schools. My academy students, along with the Hope Academy of Music students, monthly make a joint activity at a local school. The music students play music for the school kids, giving them a vision for the joy and skill of music, also often put down by parents still trying to survive, as a waste of time. My team paints one or two walls in the school, truly bringing the school to life and changing the atmosphere. We will continue this throughout the year and look forward to seeing our village, our places of education and learning be impacted by hope, vision and life.
We sadly have been limited in the use of the Academy building above the stables in the old village due to lack of electricity in the village. I hope that we will be able to purchase a generator this year, as I want my students to be in pleasant, tranquil surroundings, outside the camp, so that their minds and bodies are relaxed and free to see and soar. The camp represents captivity for them, every day is a reminder of the life that was stolen from them. The stables and academy in the village is a place of serenity, of peace and tranquillity that encourages creativity.
I will be focusing on the use of poetry and music as the backdrop for painting whilst of course encouraging self expression. I want to see the vision that is inside them unlocked. I want to see their ability to dream put onto canvas. I want to see them flying.
I would like to share with you a few recent paintings that are based upon poems. I love using the written word as a launching pad as it encourages my students to search for themselves, and identify with a poem and its sentiments.
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken - winged bird
That can not fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow."
- Lanston Hughes
Painted by Salman
“I want to fly free
From all that keeps me in captivity
All that imprisons a frail body held fast and earthbound.
To move with the flow and embrace Holy Spirit’s current of grace
To soar above the ground
Above all circumstance and place
All sight and sound of fallen humanity
Into a place where you dwell and all is Light.
I want to become as a bird, eagle born given strength
To flee and rise above this earthly frame
Tied down, weighted fast with sickness,sin and shame
Fly into Love’s fragrant air
Breathe deep and easy.”
- Joy Lenton
Painted by Rema
“Light a candle in your window to illuminate your room
Set yourself a goal to achieve
Find hope for yourself
Life without hope is darkness without life.”
Painted by Rema
“You are far away
And I am far away from you
Each one having half his mind erecting a statue
For the other”
- Written and painted by our student Nazar, who lost all his family to ISIS.
If I Were a Bird
“If I were a bird I would fly myself free of this place
I would go far past infinity into the distance of forever
And stay there for the rest of eternity,
The wind between my feathers,
The sun firing up my back
Igniting my loosened soul.
I would break my chained restraints
And forget all of my problems
Touching the clouds as I went.
If I were a bird
I would use my wings and fly.
Just to know that freedom isn't a lie.”
- Suresh Kamar.
Painted by Nazar
“The rain is raining all around
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on umbrellas here
And on the ships at sea.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson
Painted by Bahar
“I like the town on rainy nights.
When everything is wet
When all the town has magic light
And streets of shining jet.
When all the rain about the town Is like a looking glass,
And all the lights are upside down.
Below me as I pass in all the pools
Are velvet skies
And down the dazzling street
A fairy city gleams and lies
In beauty at my feet.”
- Irene Thompson
Painted by Arjwan
Thank you for believing in our work and following our journey. I hope that you will continue to track with us and partner with us this year, as we bring hope and freedom to our community, one visionary painting at a time. ‘
- Salam Shewakar, Director of the Hope Academy of Art and Kids 4 Hope
Over almost a decade, I have come to know Salam well. Literally to know how he works from his inside, outwards. He is a true visionary. One who sees that which does not yet exist in our physical world and knows how to pull it down. I appreciate his thinking and seeing process which is one that engages his mind, his spirit and his eyes. When the vision becomes tangible, his eyes become those of an eagle, and he begins to lay out his template. Until that moment, there is no hurrying him, you wait in the knowledge that his vision will be accurate, and on time.
His journey, like that of most here, is one that has frequently been punctuated by suffering and loss which make his visionary abilities all the sharper and more victorious.
I close this blog with words, so apt for this region and for every aspect of our journey here in ancient Mesopotamia, words spoken by Winston Churchill in 1940 as part of his first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons.
“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all their terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be.”
Can you help?
Partner with us to bring hope and freedom to this community, one visionary painting at a time. We are so thankful for your kind and generous hearts that make all this possible. You are transforming lives.