Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Helen Zughaib’s Syrian Migration Series

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Helen Zughaib’s Syrian Migration Series

Article excerpt

Opening night for Helen Zughaib's "Syrian Migration Series," at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, DC on Jan. 25 was so jam-packed that this admirer returned for a quiet closer look. That was a lucky break since gallery curator Dagmar Painter was available to talk about Zughaib's deeply moving show.

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series from 1940-1941, a 60-painting record of the migration of African Americans from the rural south to the industrial north, Zughaib begins her series with the initial "Arab Spring" uprising in Tunisia in 2010 that soon spread across the Middle East. Her paintings depict the ravages of the never-ending Syrian civil war and the displacement of millions of refugees.

Zughaib's focus is not overtly political, Painter said. She doesn't take sides in Syria's ghastly civil war. She's more concerned about depicting the victims, especially women and children in this 25-painting series.

Beneath each of Zughaib's gouache and ink paintings is a thumb nail of the Lawrence work that inspired Zughaib's interpretation. "Every time I look at these paintings, I see new things," Painter marveled. "Each painting stands on its own but they're also connected to Lawrence's works in interesting ways."

Lawrence's migrants are escaping poverty in the Jim Crow South, carrying their possessions in sacks, escaping possible lynching or starvation. Zughaib's refugees may echo the same flow and movement across the canvas, but her migrants are fleeing war. …

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