Friday, June 12, 2009

In bold brushstrokes, refugees tell their tales - Gazette

New Silver Spring mural calls attention to those who fled their countries in fear hoping for a better life

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For three refugees living in Maryland, speaking out against the government in their native lands could mean prison time, physical injury or even death. But remaining silent could be just as harmful to countless others living in oppressive or war-torn countries.

While the three still fear backlash against themselves and their families, they hope their stories of perseverance and survival, captured in a new mural on Bonifant Street in Silver Spring, will illustrate the struggles of countless other refugees living in America and lead to change in their native lands.

Alan Bowser with artist Joel Bergner

Georges Mushayuma, a former mayor in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fled after finding himself between rival sides in his country's civil war. Mai Kyi, a Burmese woman, is afraid to return to her country after being exposed as a Christian while studying in the United States.

And an Iraqi woman, who asked to be referred to as "Zeena" for fear of backlash against her family, fled her native land after her brother was killed by Saddam Hussein's militia because her family showed loyalty to American troops invading her country.

All three established lives in the U.S. through the International Rescue Committee's Refugee Resettlement Center at 8700 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring. The mural's artist used contacts at the center to find the three refugees and after interviewing them, immediately felt obligated to share their struggles with the public.

"With something this intense and important you can't just do a sloppy job," said Joel Bergner, a Washington, D.C., artist who spent three weeks painting the mural on the side of Kefa Café on Bonifant Street, using a $3,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. "You have to do them justice."

No comments: