Imad Gebrayel, Graphic Design master’s student of the School of Fine Art and Design|St.Joost, was brimming with ideas when he left for Berlin to examine the refugee problem. ‘It’s a harsh world.’
The art school student left for Germany to witness first-hand how refugees become part of daily life in the capital. He wanted to see if he could offer them some strategies to translate their emotions and experiences into stories.
Imad was surprised by the harsh reality that refugees face. ‘The Netherlands is a wonderland compared to Berlin’, he says. ‘It’s a ruthless city, which makes working with refugees a difficult experience. There is little positivity here. People really struggle to survive.’
Imad’s investigation revealed that not all refugees are keen to share their stories. ‘Some of them feel used by the media. Others simply don’t want to be reminded time and again of their flight.’ He also discovered a lot of resentment and hatred towards refugees of other nationalities. It turns out Syrian asylum seekers are sometimes labelled ‘VIP refugees’ by others. ‘Apparently their paperwork is processed more quickly.’
Imad wanted to give refugees the chance to tell their own story. He decided to tap into his experience as a graphic designer to host a workshop on telling stories and creating visuals. ‘It was quite hard to get enough people to participate. Berlin is huge, so there are dozens of events every day. Still, soon after I started to promote my workshop, 23 people signed up. 11 of them turned up on the day.’
The refugees wrote stories about their lives during the workshop. Imad then challenged them to rewrite their work using different, more appealing forms. ‘My main aim was to help rid them of any ingrained self-censorship. They could write anything they wanted to. A journalist who was taking part used a third-person narrator in his story. I challenged him to rewrite it using a first-person perspective.’
After they had finished writing their stories, the participants were taught how to create illustrations. Imad aims to have the stories translated from Arabic and to publish them as illustrated works. ‘They are all magnificent and hearfelt stories. All the participants were very excited about the workshop and I’m sure the result will be amazing.’
Centre of Expertise for Art & Design
Dérive Berlin made it possible for Imad to spend 2 months in Germany. This project is supported by the Centre of Expertise for Art & Design, the Belius Foundation Berlin and the Research Centre for Art & Design (CAD). Each year, Dérive Berlin offers 2 outstanding students enrolled in the Bachelor of Communication & Multimedia Design or at the School of Fine Art and Design|St.Joost the opportunity to visit Berlin.