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Artist’s passion survives war and displacement

30 April 20210 comments

A refugee artist whose passion for his work was almost extinguished by decades of war is rekindling his lifetime love affair with art after settling in Melbourne

Iraqi refugee Zuhair Hanna and his family were forced to flee their home when ISIS attacked their city but are now rebuilding their lives in Australia.

Now, Zuhair his sons Nawres and Yousif have settled in Melbourne’s north and are adapting to life in Australia.

Zuhair, who was a film poster artist in Iraq, is using his artistic talents to help decorate local churches and to document his new life in Australia. 

He was a film poster artist for more than 50 years. There has been a tradition in Iraq to use art instead of photography in film posters for as long as the industry has existed.

“It started for me as a hobby but I went on to work for newspapers and a cinemas in Iraq,” Zuhair said.

“My hobby became a career and I used to design film spreads for newspapers and write in specific Arabic fonts,” he said.

Zuhair says that before conflict came to Iraq, life was good.

“Before the wars came, people lived well and the economy was goof. My passion was my art and I used to have an office with a studio,” he said.

“But we’ve had lots of wars starting in the 1980s and things declined. Cinemas closed because of the conflict. And after the war in 2003, things became more Islamic so there were very few cinemas.”

With no cinema work, Zuhair too to painting murals in Christian and Orthodox churches in Baghdad.

Sons Yousif and Nawres are studying laboratory technology at RMIT University at are hoping to forge careers in medical science.

The Hannas arrived in Australia in December 2019 after spending four-and-a-half difficult years in Lebanon where Zuhair’s wife and the boys’ mother passed away.

They left their home in Baghdad because of fears over their safety.

“When ISIS attacked the city it became very dangerous especially for us as Christians,” Yousif said.

“When ISIS attacked, we had ISIS on one side and on the other, opposing them, were the Shia militias who wanted my brother Nawres to join them,” he said.

“We left the day Nawres finished his university degree. At the time I had finished Year 11 but I had to leave school,” Yousif said.

Zuhair and his family fled to Lebanon where they lived in difficult circumstances for four and a half years with no legal right to work or access to education.

“It was very difficult in Lebanon. We could not work legally, so we had to take any jobs we could.” Yousif said.

“I worked long hours operating playground machines and selling gift but the pay was very low. Nawres did similar work and we earned only enough to survive,” he said.

Other members of Zuhair’s family have been scattered across the globe because of the conflict with a son in Sweden and daughters in the US and Canada

The family has been supported by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia and they have made great strides in their settlement journey.​

“We are very happy to be in Australia. Life is very good here. We want to study hard and get jobs and AMES has helped us,” Yousif said.