Words by Alison Fletcher.
Syrian painter, filmmaker, and performing artist Abdalla Omari has caused the latest big splash on the social media scene with his collection: ‘The Vulnerability Series’. His paintings have taken the world by storm, featuring in countries all over the world such as the USA, the UK, France, Germany, Lebanon, Syria, Georgia, Denmark, Poland to name a few, and is continuing to spread. Why? The controversial content of his work: painting world leaders as refugees.
Following a hung parliament in the latest general election, young people – especially students – feel that their voices have finally been heard. Votes cast for Jeremy Corbyn shout, louder than ever before, that the young vote for compassion: ‘for the many not the few’. These paintings strongly represent this philosophy, providing a platform of protest against harsh right-wing views about immigration in the UK. Taking a stand against the conservative elite and the policies they represent, Omari spoke to his young, left-wing audience: “Who said art is too elitist. The Vulnerability Series has gone viral.”
The subjects of his work include, among other prominent world leaders, Donald Trump, David Cameron, Vladimir Putin, and Bashar Al Assad – many interpret his work as shifting the power balance between these figures and sufferers of the refugee crisis. One cannot see these paintings and not think of Aylan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian child whose body was found washed up on a beach after drowning in the sea. One also finds it hard not to think of the Katie Hopkins article published in The Sun Newspaper in which she referred to refugees as ‘cockroaches’. And though Omari claims that the aim of the collection was to “take away [the world leaders’] power, not to serve [his] pain but to give [them] back their humanity, and the audience an insight into what the power of vulnerability can achieve”, it is difficult to see these pieces and not feel a sense of anger towards the lack of action being taken to help the refugees that seek asylum in the UK.
It is undeniable that Omari’s collection is attracting global attention, and that this, in turn, is provoking a discussion, predominantly on social media, about how we treat refugees. Many have commented on the provocative nature of the work, and if one thing is true: it is that for an artist to succeed it must make the audience feel something. Twitter users make comments such as ‘Part four destroyed my emotions’, and ‘A picture is worth 1000 words’. Omari has certainly made people feel via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and continues to promote compassion at a viral rate.
‘The Vulnerability series’ exhibition is on currently at the Ayyam Gallery until the 6th July 2017. View the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZqYsiACtSs