Supporting refugees around the world with nonprofit partners Artolution and Japan for UNHCR
World Refugee Day 2021
On this World Refugee Day 2021, we highlight the important work of Artolution, a key partner of Gucci and #ChimeForChange, an international community-based public art organization founded in 2009 by artists Max Frieder and Joel Bergner that aims to create positive change through collaborative art projects in communities that have experienced armed conflict, trauma and social marginalization.
We want to highlight the work done by Artolution and its team in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda and in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region —the largest refugee camp in the world—as they empower artists, young people and communities to be agents of positive social change, to explore critical societal issues and to create opportunities for constructive dialogue.
“When I visit the camps and work with different people in different camps, I help them to speak. And thousands of people are like them. I want so that I can help all of the people, those who do not have a voice, they can raise their voice, and they can say whatever they want.”
This is Miriam Adaru, a Lead Artolution Artist from South Sudan living in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement located in Uganda, who has mobilized Artolution’s methodology in her community to demonstrate how the arts can bring together those who have had difficult histories with one another. Miriam speaks about the impact of the initiative in the community, showcasing an Artolution project that involved children from the local school where she teaches. “My message to the world is: let us be peaceful with one another and we are living together as brothers and sisters.”
Listening to the words of Gift Moses, an Artolution teaching artist, living in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Northern Uganda, the largest of its kind in Africa with local schools serving 2,000-4,000 youth. In 2019, Gift Moses was part of the founding team of artists which, with the support of Chime For Change, built local capacity by training 14 artists originally from South Sudan and Uganda to deliver collaborative art-making as a tool for communities to share their stories with the world. The projects completed throughout 2019 with the Bidi Bidi community and host communities largely focused on promoting public health messages, inter-cultural coexistence, multi-generational communication, and the future hopes and dreams of the youth who currently live there.
World Refugee Day 2020
During a time when nearly 30 million refugees worldwide are especially vulnerable due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gucci is continuing its support of refugee communities through digital activations with nonprofit partners Artolution and Japan for UNHCR to mark World Refugee Day on June 20, 2020.
As we enter our third year of partnership with Artolution, we are featuring Artolution’s innovative and collaborative community projects, which promote resilience and inclusion among women, children and families from refugee and displaced communities in Uganda, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Jordan and around the world. Since launching in 2018, our partnership has supported Artolution in implementing more than 400 projects in communities across 30 countries, serving more than 6,000 refugees around the world.
Moreover, to further global collaboration and inspire creativity and change among the next generation, we convened 6 children and families of Gucci employees for a virtual workshop with 12 refugee youth from Uganda, currently living in a South Sudanese refugee settlement, who are participants in Artolution’s global programs to exchange and connect through the arts and technology.
This workshop was conceived within the Artolution’s Virtual Bridges initiative, to create new platforms for virtual connection through the power of art, providing opportunities for relationship-building across borders, educational and creative programming in virtual spaces, and spreading life-saving messages to vulnerable communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.
As part of the Gucci Changemakers Volunteering initiative, the workshop represented the first of a series of “virtual bridges” that will serve to educate new generations and their families to become agents of change and to promote the values of inclusivity and cultural awareness.
During the workshop, participants had the opportunity to learn about their cultures, lifestyles and social contexts during the pandemic, as well as to interact with each other by participating in a collaborative storytelling training. From the creation of a story to the design of a fantastical character, the output of this virtual connection resulted in a digital art collage that is a visual testament to the power of cultural exchange and inclusivity.
In addition to the collaboration with Artolution, we are also joining the call for more support of refugees with Japan for UNHCR, a nonprofit organization established in 2000 as the official support in Japan on behalf of UNHCR, which will hold “WILL2LIVE”, a music and cinema charity event aimed to call for support of refugees and displaced people facing more difficulties affected by COVID-19 around the world. “UNHCR WILL2LIVE Music 2020, Special Live-Streaming on World Refugee Day” is hosted on YouTube and is led by Japanese musician Miyavi, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and Gucci Friend of the House, who is featured in Gucci’s first sustainable line, Gucci Off the Grid.
“Beyond boundaries, as living beings on this planet, we all need to unite, share and deal with problems we have now together. The refugee crisis is not a regional issue, it’s global and it’s our own problem– we all are responsible somehow.”
And finally, through its Gucci Changemakers program, Gucci made a donation to UNHCR, in support of projects with the aim to generate positive social change through digital awareness campaigns on refugees around the world. Gucci employees will participate in volunteering activities in collaboration with UNHCR throughout the year.
Read the stories and see the gallery with the related artwalls from refugee participants and artists around the world.
In 2019, Artolution met Joyce, a young woman whose village in South Sudan was attacked when she was three months old.
“At the time I was 3 months old, my mother was carrying me on her back [as they fled their village], they started shooting, my leg was shot, they shot my mother, and she died. I was taken to the hospital and my leg was amputated.” -Joyce
After her family fled South Sudan, she moved from place to place with different members of her community. Her father also died when he was young, from a preventable illness. Eventually, Joyce made it to the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Northern Uganda. Despite being displaced multiple times, Joyce is a light to children in her community in the Bidi Bidi Settlement through her self-expression, singing and painting. She dreams of becoming a nurse to help people heal.
Fabric of Women’s Resilience
Although typically weaved by men, a unique canvas barkcloth was made by South Sudanese refugee women and traveled to 4 different refugee communities around the world as a work of art created by refugee women and girls telling their stories. Through art, we can weave together our individual stories, and impact the larger community around us.
The barkcloth first traveled to Bangladesh, where women artists Anwara, Dildar, Rishmi, Riffa, and Hasina focused on encouraging expectant mothers and their families to seek access to health care, practice good hygiene, and learn how to properly care for newborns and infants. The three primary images in the traveling mural were of a pregnant woman with a physician, a mother bathing her child, and a woman with a baby on her back reading a book about childcare.
Next was the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, where Syrian women refugee artists painted a woman with a baby on her back and a book in her hands to dispel the myth that women who have children are no longer able to pursue an education.
In Greece’s Samos refugee camp, Afghan refugee women artists painted a man with a white beard and a woman covered in gold to illustrate one of the women’s personal story of child marriage. At 12 years old, she was sold to an older man who married her and gave her gold jewelry. She was able to run away from the marriage and now is a refugee in Greece. For her, it was important to tell her story to call for an end of child marriage.
Finally, the fabric returned to Uganda, where women refugee artists painted flowers, leaves, fish, a bucket, spoons and other animals to show their connection to the land, day-to-day tools, and community.
“We are all in this together. And, we will get through this together” – Rohingya artists working with the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) to learn more about safe public health practices like hand-washing and safe handling of community latrines. Artolution artists took critical public health messages learned in day-long training workshops and created colorful murals to illustrate around safe water, sanitation, and hygiene practices to local community members living in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Artworks during COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Artolution refugee artist teams continue to spread hope and awareness through their artwork by working with families at home to create drawings and paintings as messages of solidarity, concern for the world and care for others through essential public health messages: washing hands, covering coughing with your elbows, wearing masks, and staying at home in small groups to protect others.
The NYC Youth Resilience Mural
In 2018, Artolution worked with the members of the Harvey Milk High School and Manhattan School of Career Development in New York to complete a mural with 5 stunning portraits and an astonishing “birdstrument”, an Artolution signature program called Foundstrument Soundstrument focusing on sustainability using found objects.
Harvey Milk High School serves young people who identify as LGBTQ, most of whom have experienced bullying or marginalization in a traditional high school environment. Artolution also partnered with their nearby school, Manhattan School of Career Development which serves students who have special needs, such as autism, learning disabilities and down syndrome.
Issues of diversity, immigration and inclusion came up in the group conversation, and the group settled on an image of an upgraded Statue of Liberty, in which her face is that of a young woman from the community welcoming people from all backgrounds. Additionally, the phoenix in the mural symbolizes rebirth and the puzzle texture pays homage to the international symbol for Autism, which was another topic in the group conversation.
Laverne, a transgender woman, shared “My dream is to have the body that represents my gender, so I drew a naked woman. My dream is to be seen for who I am.”
Rohingya Resilience, Escaping Genocide
Between August 2017 and January 2018, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar due to ethnic cleansing; most walked for days through jungles and mountains, or braved dangerous sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal, in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance. Now, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees currently live in Bangladesh. The children growing up in the largest refugee settlement in the world remind their community and the world, the power of their stories through murals that communicate overcoming challenges in the camps and systematic discrimination back home in Myanmar.
“In Burma, we had many big homes. They drove us away and set our houses on fire. Drawing pictures makes us forget about Myanmar and it feels good. I want to become a painter when I grow up. I want to teach the children. I want to give the children good opportunities to play and draw.” – Royima, Age 10, Rohingya refugee girl
“When we were in Myanmar we were in jail, we were detained. We lost our family members, and our husbands and fathers. There is a horrible situation inside of Myanmar. When I arrived in Bangladesh I couldn’t even speak, and I was traumatized, and I wasn’t able to speak to the people because I didn’t feel I was alive. When I [started to] work and engage with Artolution, I started to speak. I feel I got my life back and I was reborn. Around the camp, there are thousands of people like me. When I visit the camp and work with different people in different camps, I help them to speak. And thousands of people are like them. I can help all of the people, those who do not have a voice, they can raise their voice, and they can say whatever they want. That is what I want to keep continuing every single day.” – Dildar, at the Balukhali Rohingya Refugee Camp on the border of Mynamar and Bangladesh.