Maria Nissan, SACI 2018 MFA in Studio Art alumna, is building refugee crisis awareness and support through art therapy classes and art projects in Athens, Greece, and documentary screenings in Athens, Georgia.
Maria Nissan, 2018 graduate of the MFA in Studio Art program at SACI, spent the last six months in Athens, Greece, advocating for awareness and aid for victims of the refugee crisis, and is continuing to build support and gain funding for her projects. She first arrived in Greece to work with The Unmentionables, an organization for which she developed two art therapy programs, Art Therapy for Refugee Men and Art Therapy for Teenage Women.
While in Greece, Maria also completed a variety of art projects including installations, murals, and photo documentation. These projects included 440 Transparent Documents, an interactive play area of plastic coffee cups built to shield refugee children from traumatic events, S.A.M Single Adult Men, interviews and photographs delving into the problems faced by this group of refugees often excluded from the services reserved for women and children, and Colliding Worlds/Morning of Jasmine, wall murals covering the entire interior and exterior of Happy Caravan, a school for refugee children in Lamia, Greece.
While in the US this winter, Maria is organizing From Athens to Athens, (Athens, Georgia, and Athens, Greece), an event that will raise awareness about the refugee crisis through a screening of the documentary Faraway Land, which examines the struggles refugees face in Athens. The film will be shown on January 23rd at 7:30pm at Ciné in Athens, Georgia.
Donations can be made to help fund Maria's initiatives. Learn how to donate.
About the Initiatives:
Art Therapy for Refugee Men was developed for single, adult men using art as a method for empowerment workshops. The participants focused on the "role of the man in Europe" as a means to look forward to the participants’ futures rather than their current situations. Because the majority of men were to travel to France, the group worked on on historical French drawings incorporating English words, such as the French flag, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and French food and culture. In addition to the art exercises, the program aimed to create a safe and comfortable environment that could act as a constant in lives that were otherwise in flux.
They so strongly needed a constant since their entire lives during this period were in flux. The men [...] would tell me how if it was not for the art therapy program they would be on the streets taking drugs or drinking. The class had a major moral effect on them.
Art Therapy for Teenage Women focused on the themes of feminism and the shift of women's roles. Maria worked with a group of teenage women between the ages of 12-17 from the Middle East, meeting several times a week to discuss the difficulties they face being raised as Middle Eastern women in a European country. Maria, raised in the United States and of Iraqi origins, was able to understand the women’s challenges and create a safe, comfortable environment in which participants could draw, drink hot tea, write in journals (a new concept for many), and have open discussions about family, career options, and life paths.
440 Transparent Documents was built as a site-specific installation inside Victoria Square Park. The square, home to a significant amount of undocumented Afghan refugees exposed to sex trafficking, violence, and drug use daily, can be harmful for the children who are present and witness these illegal activities. With 440 used plastic coffee cups collected from the square’s local coffee shops every day for two months, Maria built interactive play area to shield the children from these traumatic images. The walls offered separation from the crimes while encouraging the children’s own creativity. The kids moved the cups around, swung on them, and shook them to make sounds.
S.A.M, Single Adult Men is a documentary project examining the issues male refugees encounter. With refugee services geared towards families, women, and children, the men often must fend for themselves and, over a period of time, end up very vulnerable due to the few resources available to them.
The project includes interviews by the men in Maria’s therapy groups, most of whom were homeless and without clothing or food, along with images of their hands that were taken during the interviews. The project aims to delve into the reality they face and the system of crime, violence, and drugs they find themselves in, as well as bring awareness to the lack of study and investigation that has been completed in order to discern and correct the root of these problems.
"We steal because we have no way of surviving without money. We take drugs to forget we steal and forget the problems. We have no life here. We just want to live without fear."
Colliding World/Morning of Jasmine are two mural projects and workshops completed in collaboration with Happy Caravan, a children's refugee school in Lamia, Greece. Maria was invited to paint murals on both the interior and exterior walls of the school while completing workshops with the young students. Together, Maria and the children painted the entire school.
Donate to Maria's initiatives.
Learn more about the MFA in Studio Art program at SACI.