Artist who escaped to Canada from Iraq using paint and canvas to raise funds for refugees

A Vancouver artist and former refugee is putting paint to canvas in an effort to raise money for newcomers to Canada as they make the difficult resettlement transition.

Harem Tahir came to Canada in 2017 as a refugee. While he has begun to find his feet in the country, the transition hasn’t been easy.

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“I have lots of things I’m struggling with — like my wife is still there,” he told Global News.

“My family back home in Iraq, and, every night when I sleep, I worry about them, if something happens to them there again.”

This original painting by Harem Tahir is being auctioned off with all proceeds going to support the Immigrant Settlement Society of B.C.

Goldbeck Recruiting

Tahir understands the plight of refugees well.

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Originally from Kurdistan in northern Iraq, he’s been displaced by war four times, including eight years of life in a refugee camp in Iran, and a flight from ISIS in 2014.

He told Global News he discovered a love of art as a young child — a passion he explored while living in the Iranian camp, when he would illustrate the stories his mother told at night about what life was like back home.

After the family returned to Kurdistan in the late 1990s, he got formal training in art college, and has since held six solo shows and participated in more than 30 exhibitions.

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But as a refugee in Canada, he had trouble reconnecting with his practice amid the challenges of adapting to a new country, improving his English and finding time to paint while working, he said.

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“I didn’t have any hope, to be honest,” he said.

That was until he connected with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC). The non-profit, among the largest of its kind in Canada, provides a range of services to refugees and immigrants, from settlement to language to employment.

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Tahir said support from the organization helped him start to rebuild his life as an artist.

He also recognized himself in some of the children he saw there, and began volunteering to teach art classes.

“They opened the door for me to get to know art here, the community of art, going to the galleries, introducing me to other artists,” he said.

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This year, he partnered with the ISSofBC and Goldbeck Recruiting, a Vancouver-based employment agency to use his art to support the organization’s work.

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Goldbeck commissioned an original painting of a Vancouver scene from him — the top of Grouse Mountain — which is being auctioned off, with all proceeds going to ISSofBC.

In addition to the original being sold at auction, prints of the work are also being sold.

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“We know that art and culture are important in all of our lives, and we know behind every statistic of a refugee there’s a story and a journey,” ISSofBC CEO Jonathan Oldman said.

“Harem is inspiring because he reminds us that people have endured so much, but, at the same time, are thinking about rebuilding their lives, giving back, and giving expression to the full range of their artistic ideas.”

Bidding is open in the auction until midnight Sunday. 

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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