Students Respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis Through Art


By Colleen Rose, Art Teacher at Nipigon-Red Rock District High School

Images help us think. They help us understand.

My grade nine art students were invited to respond to the refugee crisis: a situation created by war in Syria. Thousands of people have been left with no other option than to escape their home land and try to find refuge in another country.

Students began to understand the power of art when we explored the history behind Picasso’s Guernica.

“Probably Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is certainly the his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War.” Source:

“Probably Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is certainly the his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War.” Source:

We began to develop an appreciation for art that may not appeal to us, but that carries a message much more powerful than any realism could portray.

Next, we discussed a famous photograph from the Vietnam War. Nick Ut captured the horror war when he photographed young Kim Phuc shortly after she had been burned by a napalm attack.

Images can affect change by raising awareness and by sharing a common concern. We learned this lesson very recently when news and social media shared the image of a young boy’s body, washed up on the shore. Aylan Kurdi drowned when his family tried to escape the war in Syria.

Immediately, Canadians questioned our immigration policy along with our country’s leadership. Our class watched an interview on Canada AM, where Canada’s Immigration Minister explained some of the challenges in this situation.

Our class began to wonder about our own response. What could we do? How could we use art to improve this situation?

Students began to think of potential images that they could create. Perhaps, by sharing these artworks, we could affect change. Maybe, someone would look at these artworks and find a way to help people from Syria.

This is my sculpture I had made in response to the crisis, while I was making this I could really imagine the emotion and the suffering of the people in Syria. I was inspired by The Scream which was created by Edvard Munch. I immediately knew what I wanted to do after reading about the crisis, I really wanted to be able to represent the powerful feelings I had inside of me regarding this situation. I decided I would use clay to represent being stuck and trapped and feeling like there’s no escape, I chose to put my persons feet inside of the clay on the ground to help show that he is stuck.

The Scream really inspired me because when I look at the persons face I imagine fear and of course somebody screaming and I imagine it being for help, so this painting really helped me create the face of my sculpture to show the fear of my Syria refugee. In conclusion I believe that Canada should assist Syria because in the end we are all humans and they do not deserve this, we can only imagine half of what they’re actually experiencing. ~ Raena, grade 9

My group choose to do a picture of the superman symbol this symbol represent the wishes of the people. How they [must] wish they had a super hero to fly in and rescue them from the war. ~ Joseph

Earth and Moon Version 1

The Earth is supposed to mean the refugees, the moon is the government and the stars are people walking by. Without the moon the Earth cannot function properly so we need it. The moon helps us function waves and help keep the time of day. Did you know that the moon helps control the spin of the Earth? No? Well it does It’s gravitational pull on the Earth acts like a break on the spin (or “drag”). We need the moon for a lot. Now onto the starts they represent how many people just don’t care about these things. Quite a lot I know. They are called bystanders (yes they are not only involved in bullying) actually, I guess they could be considered a bully because they just stand there and watch without doing anything to help. Now onto the refugees, they need us for warmth/shelter/food. Think of it like this, what if that was your family. You would really want to help them badly. So why aren’t we helping them, why are we just standing there staring? They have families that love them as much as we love ours, people that need them as much as they need us. We need to help them. We shouldn’t be taking this and dropping it onto the ground. Even a little can do a lot. ~ Jeffrey (animation by Jeffrey, Andrew and Jaden)

My students are hoping that their art will be seen by the United Nations. They are beginning to understand the significance of countries working together for the benefit of others in need. They want the chance to help people who don’t have a voice. If you would like to help my class, please share this post with others; organizations, students, friends and family. Together, we can make a difference.