LUMA Presents Poignant Look at Refugee Crisis in Photo Exhibition

Gregory Beals, Ali, Za’atari Camp, Jordan,
Gregory Beals, Ali, Za’atari Camp, Jordan, November 2013. Photo courtesy of the Loyola University Museum of Art.

The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) presents a compelling exhibition that sheds light on the refugee experience. Gregory Beals: They Arrived Last Night  is a collection of 40 photographs by artist, journalist, and humanitarian Gregory Beals.

Over the course of the last eight years, Beals has documented the global refugee crisis and his images convey the multitude of experiences and emotions that come from living in settlement centers. Some photos capture fear and sadness, while others illustrate unexpected stories of resilience and hope. In his work for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Beals spent a great deal of time speaking with refugees who were living in these camps.

Many of his subjects are children who compose more than 50 percent of the refugee population. He captures images of children looking fearful and confused in their new surroundings while also capturing the joy of children at play. He also shows the suffering of wounded children such as a girl named Iman who lost one of her limbs as well as two siblings when her street in Syria was shelled.

Gregory Beals_Soundos in class
Gregory Beals, Soundos in Class, Za’atari Camp, Jordan, October 2013. Photo courtesy of the Loyola University Museum of Art.

There are also images of an eight-year-old Syrian girl named Soundos (above photo) who suffered a head wound from a bullet and also a broken hip from fragments of a rocket that landed near her home. But despite surviving such horrific injuries in her homeland, the viewer sees Soundos’ resilient spirit as one photo shows her in a playful mood with other kids in the camp while another captures her smiling as she eagerly raises her hand to answer a teacher’s question in a classroom setting.

Beals also illustrates the bleakness of the camps. In one photo (below), the viewer sees a group of children who express feelings of despair, fear, and confusion in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. In another, Beals captures an image of a young boy living in a camp who seems to ponder his fate as he sadly looks through a cyclone fence that separates him from the rest of the world. Another poignant image (top photo) is of a five-year old named Ali who arrived in the Za’atari camp from Damascus, Syria — his mother dressed him in his best clothing before registering him as a refugee.

Gregory Beals, Za’atari Camp, Jordan
Gregory Beals, Za’atari Camp, Jordan, October 2013. Photo courtesy of the Loyola University Museum of Art.

Despite the bleak conditions in the refugee camps, there are photos of children at play, making the most of a dire situation — children in a playground; a child with a balloon that has been fashioned from an inflated rubber glove; and kids competing in a game of Foosball.

It has been estimated that more than 65 million people around the world have been displaced from their homes. Among them are 22.5 million refugees who have been forced to cross the borders of their homeland. Displaced by war and persecution, their journey is often hazardous whether they are fleeing by boat across the Mediterranean Sea or crossing over land into a neighboring country.

While the refugee crisis has been a subject of international debate, Beals has created powerful portraits that provide a human face to the refugee experience. He has captured intimate experiences of their daily life where they can be seen as human beings rather than as mere statistics.

Gregory Beals, Italian Naval Vessel Grecale, Mediterranean Sea.
Gregory Beals, Italian Naval Vessel Grecale, Mediterranean Sea, March 2014. Photo courtesy of the Loyola University Museum of Art.

In an interview in The Luminary  (LUMA’s quarterly magazine), Beals summed it up best when he said, “In many ways, perhaps this exhibition is trying to demystify perceptions of refugees. These are human beings. These are people that have gone through a great deal. Let’s begin to pierce that veil, so to speak, in order to understand how refugees have been rendered invisible by political discourse, by social discourse, and by history. Then begin to step back and say, “Who are you?” Let’s begin to have a dialogue. I hope this exhibition will show the humanity, souls, and circumstances of these refugees.”

Gregory Beals: They Arrived Last Night  will run at Loyola University Museum of Art through June 2, 2018. The Loyola University Museum of Art is located at 820 N. Michigan Avenue. Gallery hours are Tuesday 11 am to 8 pm, Wednesday – Saturday 11 am to 6 pm, and closed on Sunday and Monday. Admission is free. For more information, you can call the museum at 312-915-7600 or visit its website.

Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek