Nada Odeh: Using Art for Syrian Refugee Women and Girls

Nada Odeh is a Syrian artist, activist, humanitarian and a modern-day poet. She was both born and raised in Damascus and has lived in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and has recently come to the USA in 2013 due to the conflict and revolution in her country. She now lives in Syracuse and is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Museum Studies.

This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide. UN Women and partners around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, launching from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th until UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 1oth.


I was chosen as one of fifteen Syrian women to receive a scholarship from Jusoor Syrian Organization that focuses on educating Syrian students that have proven humble and great attitude and efforts to help their fellow citizens or high academic achievement. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in fine arts from the Damascus University. I have attended many workshops in the field of visual arts, communication arts and therapeutical arts.

On a global scale, I  established a project commonly known as ‘Nada’s Picassos’, which had begun in Damascus but was then later moved to Dubai, and Michigan. The medium I work in is Acrylics on Canvases. Arabic miniatures, Middle Eastern colors and small details of the vast and eclectic heritage influencing artwork. The key theme in which my artwork is mainly focused on is the Syrian refugees in camps and Syrian people. I have exhibited my art in Damascus, Dubai, New York City, Detroit, Toledo, Tiffin, Washington D.C and Chicago.

I reflect Middle Eastern women in my art. One of my pieces” Peace.. Religion” is a reflection of women who are affected by war, escaping to refugee camps. It is not religion that defines their struggle, but the fact that females are not equipped enough to survive conflict, war, and violence. Women in the Middle East are not raised to be strong enough to face violence they encounter in refugee camps. As in any case, women and children remain the most vulnerable in war and turmoil.  Many Syrian women I have encountered that were in refugee camps have faced violence in different ways. This includes either by being forced to get married in a young age or being sexually abused.  In my paintings, my figures are the loud voice of Syrian women and girls… the ones who remain voiceless. According to UNICEF, intimate partner violence, threat of sexual violence, early marriage and survival sex are identified by adult women and adolescent girls as the main forms of violence currently experienced by women and girls in refugee camps.

In one particular painting, “I Am A Princess”, the subject is a princess who puts a tiara on her head and starts to dance, trying to live her childhood and dreaming to become a princess , although she lives in a refugee camp.  Another piece,”Bedtime Story” is a visual depiction of a mother who is trying to let her kids create an atmosphere of home in a refugee camp. My paintings are just a window that show the plight of women and children in conflict zones. Widows who lost their husbands in war suffer to live a proper life while raising their kids in a refugee camp. Education and literacy has been stripped from an entire generation. Violence to me might not be physical. It can be verbal ,or even an attitude that reflects how society treats a vulnerable woman in war. Education might be the only solution to strengthen women affected by war.

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