From a blog written on April 15, 2016 by Madelaine Rae
My name is Mohamed Sulaiman and I was born in Dakhla, which is a refugee camp in western Algeria. Although I studied English literature and Civilization at Batna University, my passion is art, especially calligraphy. I want to take calligraphy to a new level by exploring multiple mediums, materials, and forms. I think calligraphy can be a powerful expression of creativity when bridged with other types of art.
Currently, I must work out of my bedroom, but I have a dream to build an art studio. I have had this desire for quite some time. Right now I am finishing the rebuild of our home, which was destroyed from devastating flood rains last fall. After the rebuild, I will start constructing a space for exploring art. I am going to build the studio right next to my mother’s tent. My context brings two significant challenges to building an art studio. First, it is difficult to preserve art here. Second, it is unstable to work in a context where the decision for peaceful resolution or war could change my situation as soon as tomorrow. Despite these challenges, it is still important for me to pursue my dreams.
As I see it, a refugee camp has a tendency to pull people toward passivity and I want to make the choice to follow my dream. I want to be someone who works toward changing the stereotypes of refugees. This context has given me, as an artist, a lot of motivation to use my creativity to solve problems. I would go so far as to define an artist as someone who has the ability to look at a problem, concept, or idea and respond to it through creativity. One of things that most inspires me to create is the beauty that I find. Beauty is more than something being pretty or eye-catching. It must resonate within the soul, and natural beauty will always be more powerful than generated beauty. I am deeply inspired by the Saharawi people living inside the refugee camps. The beauty of the Saharawi people is seen in many ways, such as their hospitality, generosity, wisdom and patience. Personally, patience stands out above the other qualities, for the Saharawi have demonstrated this in the most remarkable way. They have suffered great injustices for over forty years and they have not given up on responding with integrity by holding onto their morals and values. For me, this is beautiful, and it serves as my core inspiration.
I have had the pleasure of calling Mohamed Sulaiman a new friend, one I have been able to share and develop ideas with, and one to discuss the potential of art and design—even in such a place as the Sahara Desert Refugee Camps. I am excited to see his art studio be built, even as he is hesitant to use foreign building materials, such as wood and nails, which will be used for a better structure, in place of the normal mud and sand bricks. Mohamed Sulaiman has been in my class, learning graphic design from me, as I grow my creative capacity—regarding using the materials around me—from him. Mohamed Sulaiman has truly inspired me. Not only has he sown clothes for his father’s shop, built his home, is in the process of building his art studio to provide a space for like-minded people to cultivate creativity, but he is hopeful and made the best of his current situation. His father also taught me how to make tea—even though I already knew how at this point, I still humored him! And his mother, what a sweet woman! She made the best for me while I visited their family: couscous and camel, and invited me to eat with her family—which is rare to mix genders at the table.
Here are a few pictures from my time with Mohamed Sulaiman: