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17 striking paintings by a refugee in Vancouver that will leave you speechless (PHOTOS)

"I hope that one day we can live in a world without war." 

Harem Jamal says that war has always been a part of his life. 

"I [studied] 18 years to be a teacher in college but I left everything. My family, my friends...because of war," explains the 35-year-old artist. 

"All of my sad stories are because of war—not just now—since I was a child."

Harem spent several years teaching art classes to refugee children in Iraq of all backgrounds. He's also showcased his original work in over 30 exhibitions, including six solo shows. He also fled from Iraq to Iran with his family after the Saddam Hussein government launched a campaign of extermination against the Kurds of northern Iraq.

When he escaped to Iran, Harem tells Vancouver Is Awesome that he felt like a prisoner. "I spent all of my childhood in a camp," he says. 

In 1988, the first time his family fled Iraq, they stayed in Iran for one year. And then in 1991, Harem said they fled the country again—but this time they stayed for over eight years in a refugee camp. 

"Actually, it was like a prison...not because of people. But we didn't get any help. We just had to go to work in the morning and in the evening we had to go back to the camp. Otherwise, they are doing a check of who is there and who is not there.

"We are not even allowed to go out of the camp to see the city. If we wanted to go to the city we had to come back right away by the evening."

At nine years old, Harem worked in a brick factory with his father. And while she was pregnant with his little brother, his mother also worked in a factory.

All of the children worked with their families while they were going to school, he added. "I started to study in (Farsi)—not my language—but we had to." 

harem-at-work
Photo via Goldbeck Holiday Fundraiser

Life in Vancouver 

After being persecuted for teaching his interfaith classes overseas, Harem came to Vancouver in 2017 and obtained his permanent residency in June 2021. Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) helped him get settled and land on his feet, but he's still waiting for his wife's application to be approved. She's currently living in Turkey. 

In his spare time, Harem volunteers at ISSofBC and teaches children to paint, many of whom have recently arrived from Afghanistan. Painting through his experiences, he has also pivoted to exploring the Vancouver landscape in his works. 

The recruiting team at Goldbeck, a partner of ISSofBC, commissioned Harem to do a painting of Grouse Mountain. Now, they are auctioning the painting and 100 per cent of the auction proceeds will go to ISSofBC.

The auction for the 24” x 36” painting closes on Dec. 20 at midnight. 

harem-jamal-grouse-mountain-refugee-story
Photo via Harem Jamal

"I have a story now that I want to tell," he explains, noting that he will have a solo exhibition in July 2022. "I'm bringing pieces that I did at my last show in Kurdistan."

Through his striking pieces, Harem hopes he can illuminate the lives of the people he's known, as well as the pain they've suffered. 

"I hope that one day we can live in a world without war." 

Find out more about the Goldbeck recruiting fundraiser for ISSofBC online.

ISSofBC is currently housing refugees from the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and helping them get settled in their new home country. Find out more information with ISSofBC online.