Art exhibition gives refugee teens a chance to build dreams together

Roshna, Norman, Jehan, Samira, and Aisha are refugees living in Malaysia.

They have been here between four and seven years, and dream of a better life after enjoying a new beginning in Kuala Lumpur’s Fugee School, co-founded by former Miss Universe Malaysia, Deborah Henry, in 2009.

The quintet’s works are part of a month-long art exhibition called Artrockus at Menara Ken in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, put together by Fugee, Brand Me Happy, Tea Bird Tea and Angsanacare.

Roshna, 16, said she dreams of becoming a surgeon to help people.

“I have several paintings on display. One is of a mountain scenery, as I love mountains,” said Roshna (main image), who came to Malaysia from Afghanistan, four years ago.

“There are some doctors in my family. I saw how much they helped the community back home. I believe I can achieve my dream, thanks to my life in Malaysia.”

Another of Roshna’s paintings dealt with equality and how women should speak up, not just for other women, but for men, as well.

Another message in that painting was about the need for strong mental care.

“Since Covid-19, many people have suffered depression, but not all talk about it,” said Roshna, who added that the late American artist, Bob Ross, was her inspiration.

“They suffer in silence, and that is not good. I hope our art can shine a light on this issue,” she said.

Roshna added, being in Fugee School has shown her that there is hope for her and other refugees.

Like Roshna, Aisha, 15, also dreams of studying medicine.

“I have been in Malaysia for the past seven years. The people have been so kind to me. I want to give back to society,” said Aisha, who is from Somalia.

“I want to study medicine and become a doctor. I will offer my services for free to those who need them.”

Aisha’s painting is of four students paying their respects to a teacher.

“It is about sharing knowledge and showing respect to one another. Without respect we are nothing,” she added.

Separately, Norman, 14, who dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol Cristiano Ronaldo, painted a picture of the Portugal Football Association’s crest.

“The painting represents my dream of becoming a professional footballer,” said the Afghanistan native, who has been in Malaysia for four years.

“However, I want to be an engineer – just in case I do not get to play for Real Madrid,” he quipped.

Two other budding artists, Jehan, 17, and Samira, 15, hope to become a flight attendant and the owner of a beauty salon respectively when they grow up.

The two are from Somalia. Jehan came to Malaysia five years ago, while Samira has been here since she was eight.

Jehan painted her pears in shades of green to express the different aspects of a person’s life.

“I love pears!” she joked. “I hope to join the airlines when I grow up as I would love to travel the world.

“I also painted a piece which showed a hand with two books and a mortarboard as education is important.”

Jehan standing next to her painting. Image by Hanafiah Nordin / Twentytwo13

Samira’s painting is of a mortarboard on top of three books to signify a head and a pencil (the neck) on a human body.

“Education is key to a better life. That is why I did this painting. I know that to change my life, I need to get a good education,” she said.

Meanwhile, Henry said she was overjoyed that the exhibition was finally off the ground.

“We have many talented artists in school, and this is one way of showcasing their work and to raise awareness for Fugee,” said Henry.

“We have been working with Brand Me Happy and Tea Bird Tea for six months to reinvent our business model to become self-reliant and future-proof.

“We cannot be asking for handouts forever. We need to be self-sustainable. We get a cut from sales of Tea Bird Tea and hope more corporations come forward to buy them.”

Entrance to the exhibition is free. A portion of the profits from the sale of the art pieces or products will go directly to Fugee School, with 10 per cent of all sales pooled to cover the cost of the exhibition.

Fugee student artists will also get 20 per cent for each art piece they sell, while the balance goes towards funding their school.

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