As the world celebrates International Artist Day today, join us in honoring Ibrahim—a painter from Mosul, Iraq who was displaced from his home two years ago.
His powerful work captures the heart and soul of a Christian artist whose home has been destroyed by a war that is intensifying today.
See Iraq through his eyes.
If you’ve ever been to The Louvre in Paris, you’ve seen it: that mysterious smile and those eyes that seem to follow you. The Mona Lisa is captivating, protected behind a wooden railing from zealous art lovers, raising their camera phones high to capture her mystique.
I love the Mona Lisa, but my favorite painting in the Louvre hangs directly opposite—The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese.
The Wedding Feast at Cana is the largest painting in the Louvre. The story it tells is equally monumental. Jesus and his mother are seated at a long table.
“They have no wine,” Mary has said to her son.
Jesus has responded, “My hour has not yet come.”
Now look into the bottom right-hand corner of the painting. There’s a servant pouring red wine into a serving container. In the blink of an eye, the wedding guests will taste this magnificent wine and declare it a miracle. Only Jesus knows what will happen next. You can see it in his eyes. They are transfixed. He knows that a life of wonder and hardship is to come. The artist has painted the moment before it all begins.
A painting, like a photograph, stops time. A painting invites us to participate spiritually in the same way poetry or music does. Paintings evoke deep feelings. They help us understand the world.
In this way, paintings helped me understand the conflict in the Middle East.
In May, I was invited to the home of Ibrahim Lasso and his family in Iraq. The Lassos escaped from Mosul on August 6, 2014. Ibrahim had just built a beautiful home for his family. He had a good job with the government. His wife was a nurse and his children were in school.
Overnight, they became refugees in their own country—internally displaced people unable to go home. Ibrahim now works at a camp for internally displaced people. He speaks French—valuable in communicating with French non-governmental organizations that work alongside World Vision at the camp.
Ibrahim is a civil servant, a playwright, a poet, and even a barber. And he’s a painter. He left many paintings behind in Mosul. They are no doubt destroyed now so he’s painting new ones.
I think this painting (above) could hang in the Louvre. Ibrahim explained it to me:
“From the left side, it is the evil person,” he says. “This person does not have a brain, but he relies on an empty book that contains chains of steel. At the end of the chain, you can only find swords, skulls, blood, and fire. All of these elements lead to death and destruction. However, there is the light shining from a cross laid down on the destruction. This light will open the way for the refugees and internally displaced people to reach the tent of peace and comfort—the tent of love and brotherhood.”
Another painting (above) depicts a man lying in the street. Ibrahim painted this to show how the internally displaced people feel today. “We were all hoping that being displaced will be for a short period of time and only for few days,” he said. “But months passed by and here we are after two years.”
The internally displaced people know what happened to villages that were liberated. They had been destroyed.
“This left huge fear in people’s hearts,” says Ibrahim. “Without hope, internally displaced people feel they are left alone on the edge of the road, thinking that their villages are also destroyed and they have lost all what their belongings.”
A third picture is of the part of the crisis familiar to western audiences—people making their way across the water to escape. “Looking at the sea gives you mixed feelings of beauty and fear for the people who want to travel outside seeking a better future,” says Ibrahim, who knows of two families from nearby his home that drowned in the sea. “People are taking a huge risk for a better future for their children—and all of this because of evil groups,” he says.
Today there is fighting in the area around Ibrahim’s former home of Mosul, as fighters work to retake Mosul from militants. There are still 1 million people in Mosul. They have been cut off from the outside since the area was taken in August 2014.
Soon, between 600,000 and 1 million people could be displaced by the fighting, which will be bloody. Mosul stands on the brink of catastrophe.
As in The Wedding Feast at Cana—this is the moment before it all begins. Only Jesus knows what will happen next.
World Vision is preparing for the crisis to come. Iraqis will need food and shelter, protection and psychological support. Those who escape from Mosul will join the 3.2 million Iraqis already displaced by fighting—Iraqis like Ibrahim the painter.
My prayer is that someday my friend Ibrahim will paint a picture that evokes a different kind of feeling—freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to flourish. It’s Ibrahim’s prayer as well.
“We have to be brave,” he says. “In the name of Christ, we will be afraid. We could be killed. But we have hope.”
And if Ibrahim the painter has hope—I must, too.
As the battle for Mosul continues and more families are displaced from their homes, join us in providing emergency relief. Support our refugee response here.