MEG SMITH ’21
The Mill usually plays host to indie rock bands and Trinity student musicians, but this past Thursday brought a different kind of artist to the venue: Adeebah Alnemar, a Syrian refugee who currently lives in West Hartford and expresses herself through drawing. The Tripod asked her about her work through Amr Arqoub, whose help in translating English and her Arabic was invaluable.
Alnemar started drawing as a young girl. In school art classes, when they had drawing tests, she would make drawings quicklyand pass them to her friends, who would pass them off as their own to the teachers. “Not the most academically honest thing to do,” she said with a laugh, but she was glad to help her friends.
It seems like the practice of many childhood drawings paid off as Adeebah’s work is highly technically accomplished. She renders faces and forms with the great emotion, realism, and precision that comes from years of practice and deep emotional insight.
A few years ago, Alnemar and her family fled the war in Syria to a refugee camp in Jordan. It was there, while working on the resettlement process, that she met American aid workers. Impressed by her work, they asked if they could bring three of her drawings back to the United States to sell and raise funds to help their cause. The three drawings sold quickly, and she became excited about showing her work in public. Last November, Alnemar and her family were resettled to West Hartford, and a year later, we had the privilege of bringing her work to the Trinity community.
Alnemar keeps drawings she made of scenes in Syria in her West Hartford home because she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to go back. Her drawings help her remember the feeling of home.
The Mill was practically glowing on that windy Thursday night. The gallery was brightly lit and filled with Alnemar’s charcoal drawings, organized by theme and aesthetic with great care by the Mill visual arts directors. Amnesty International set up a table where visitors could donate to support the Alnemar family and in turn received a print of one of her drawings and Amnesty International stickers. The Mill provided light refreshments, but the highlight of the snack table was decidedly the incredibly delicious baklava, baked fresh by Alnemar herself. Alnemar’s three young children wove through the groups of students, Mill members, faculty, and adults from the nearby communities. The whole event had the feel of a holiday party, lovingly arranged and enthusiastically hosted.
Sophie Priddy, one of the Mill’s visual arts directors, discussed the concepts behind how the drawings were arranged in the gallery. One of Alnemar’s most personally significant drawings is a portrait of her husband and infant child, “Father Kindness,” and it was positioned to be the first drawing you see when you enter—or even pass by—the gallery.
In her work, Alnemar uses photorealistic drawings (sometimes, as in the case of “Father Kindness,” based on photographs) to capture her memories, and imaginative, often surreal drawings to explore the ideas and themes of her life. Her work often features images of birds, and contrasts grounded humans to birds in flight. She says that to her refugees without documentation are like birds, placeless, but that she envies the ability of birds to take off in flight and go anywhere. One of her more poignant imaginative drawings shows a hand holding a bird, showing it to a partial face, only an eye. According to her, the incomplete face represents an incomplete person: we are all human, we are all flawed, none of us are perfect, but anyone can help a soul in need.