Art in the Sahwari refugee camps
Grafitti in the camps by MESA. © artifariti
Art in the Sahwari refugee camps
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Last updated: February 17, 2014

These artists are transforming the dreary environment of the Saharawi refugee camps

Banner Icon Art Not only are artists bringing creativity to the camps, but they are also teaching the Saharawi people the importance of peace, giving them a glimpse of hope and transforming walls ruined by the floods into pieces of art, writes Agaila Abba.

Every few years, there are massive floods in the Saharawi refugee camps in southwestern Algeria. These floods have devastating effects on the Saharawi people who have been living in the refugee camps close to 40 years.

During these nearly four decades, extraordinary efforts at creating and encouraging poetry, music, dance, education and art have taken place in the camps.

"The art initiative in the refugee camps is not only transforming them, but also giving hope to the thousands of Saharawi refugees in the midst of the desert hardship

ARTifariti is an annual art workshop that takes place every year in the refugee camps bringing artists from all over the world, and one if the art forms it has introduced is graffiti.

In 2011, the renowned Spanish street artist MESA traveled to the refugee camps and left his graffiti fingerprints on every ruined wall that was left after one of the floods destroyed many of the houses.

What is captivating about MESA’s graffitis is the faces he uses on the walls; they are of those Saharawis living in the refugee camps, each piece of graffiti tells a story.

Like MESA’s work, each oil canvas paintings of the rising Saharawi artist Mohamed Sayad tells a story. But in Sayad’s case it is his story as a Saharawi who experienced the conflict and lived under Morocco’s occupation of his land.

The other detail that makes Sayad’s paintings fascinating is that each painting covers an aspect of the Saharawi heritage and culture, which tends to be forgotten and lost due to the complexity of the conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco.

The art movement in the refugee camps has not only attracted renowned international artists to the camps, but also given self-taught artists like Sayad exposure to different types and styles, allowing each to find their own artistic expression.

Last year a new art school was inaugurated in one of the refugee camps, the first of its kind. The aim is not only to serve well-known Saharawi artists, but also to offer an opportunity to teach aspirating artists and children in the camps. The programs launched by the school will be sponsored by different international NGOs and will continue to bring artists from all over the globe.

The art initiative in the refugee camps is not only transforming them, but also giving hope to the thousands of Saharawi refugees in the midst of the desert hardship. As a Saharawi, I am beyond proud to see such a phenomenon taking place where I was born and where my family still lives.

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Not only are artists bringing creativity to the camps, but they are also teaching the Saharawi people the importance of peace, giving them a glimpse of hope and transforming walls ruined by the floods into pieces of art.

Agaila Abba
Agaila is a Sahrawi born in the refugee camps in Algeria. She is currently pursuing her studies in Political Science and International Studies with a focus in African and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She is an active campaigner for the rights of the Sahrawi people.
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