For the world to be a better place, every human being on this earth needs to be armed with a good dose of empathy. It’s so easy to become immune to the suffering others are going through, even when thousands of people are involved, as is the case of the refugee crisis. For Abdalla Al Omari, empathy should start with the world leaders themselves who hold much of the power and this is why he has chosen to paint these public figures as refugees.
Omari’s “The Vulnerability Series” is made up of a series of paintings depicting world leaders as refugees. In the series, several known world leaders are featured including President Donal Trump and former President Barack Obama. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also featured, as well as, Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
3. A Refugee Himself
In a video sent to HuffPost, Omari explains his reasons behind this series. “Initially I was driven by my own experience of displacement and the anger that I felt, like any other Syrian, while the situation in Syria escalated. It was a personal desire in the beginning to imagine how would those supposedly great personalities look like if they were in the shoes of refugees, displaced.”
Omari had to flee Syria in 2011 when civil war broke out. He is now living in Brussels where he has been given asylum. In the video, Omari explains how he started working on “The Vulnerability Series” two years ago.
It’s been six years since the Syrian war broke out and according to the United Nations, over 5 million Syrians have been displaced. A report from Save The Children has shown the painful consequences of Syrian children living as refugees. These children are “suffering from mental health issues,” some are wetting their bed and some have even attempted suicide.
While these children are going through trauma, world leaders are continuing to fuel the civil war. Trump administration “launched missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack.” While Russia continued its support for Assad’s regime through military aid.
Omari explains his reasons for his artwork. “I found myself obliged emotionally and consciously to get involved and to deliver a message to those leaders, who are partly responsible on the displacement of a mass of Syrians,” says in the video. “Maybe they will feel what it is to be vulnerable when they see it in the mirror, when they see it in themselves.”
In one painting, Omari features North Korea ruler Kim Jong-un. The latter comes across as a mix between a lost refugee and a little boy. The rocket behind his back may be a toy but it represents much more than that.
In a painting featuring Assad, Omari outdoes himself. You can see the sense of loss and the pain in this man's eyes. The disheveled suit and the absurdity of a paper boat only makes the pain of being a refugee that much more palpable.
Obama too is featured in this series. Omari has painted him in a torn hat, with nothing but his clothes on. It would be so easy to dismiss this quiet looking man as another refugee until we realize it is Obama and only then will we understand that behind every lost face of a refugee there is a human being.
Together with Syrian children, the world leaders are also depicted waiting in line. From Obama to Assad, the men look vulnerable as they wait. Waiting for protection, for food, or for basic needs but always waiting, as many of the refugees are.
Omari has gone through the trauma of being a refugee. Rather than using his pain in a destructive manner, he has channeled it into art that could trigger more empathy in the world. There’s a human being with life, aspirations, and emotions behind every refugee's face and Omari has done a great job in reminding us of this.