I am in the refugee camp of Ellinikon, of the Greek Capital, Athens, where 1500 Syrian and Afghan refugees are staying. Men, women, and children have found temporary refuge where they await a response from the European Union, hoping to grant political asylum in any member country. War, like a very deep wound, is etched on every face, in the gestures, the looks, the destiny of those who have suffered from war, as well as those who were born in its midst.
A few brushes, different colored paint and a piece of cloth lay on the floor. Surrounded by six children with confused eyes. The volunteer instructor gestures towards the children to motivate them to explore with first brushstrokes. Timidly they start at the edges of the cloth and soon extend to cover all the surfaces. Spontaneous portraits emerge, with relaxed looks, faces and thoughts that, in that instant, leave behind the war and the scars. For that brief space in time, they have left off the cloth.
I’m able to print those first smiles in 4X6 format, and I arrive the next day to give them each a picture of themselves, one by one. Asal comes running, screaming with a frown and snatches her photo. She looks at it carefully, she doesn’t smile like the others, she doesn’t scream out loud like the others, only with a very subtle gesture she asks, “Who is she?”. After a brief silence, she disappears among the multitude with the photograph in her hand.
Two days later, a tall and large man approaches me. He is Badih, the father of Asal. With gestures, he invites me into his tent, filled with covers, clothes and some toys. In an improvised altar, the photograph of Asal. After sharing tea, he asks me to photograph him with his children.
During the next three weeks, boys and girls, fathers and mothers, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandparents pose in front of the camera with their best clothing, hijabs, hairstyles, and the clothing donated from the remote areas of the world, made of cloths and colors foreign to their culture.
“Portraits of Dignity is a project that captures photographic images revealing the essential humanity of refugees as they flee the horrors of war and adjust to new cultures. A project that forges collaborative relationships that transforms the realities in the act of mirroring, reflection, imagery, and imagination. It moves us to see human beings as a civilization with common challenges, seeking to evolve towards a society that cares for the wellbeing of all.”
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