Category Archives: Artwork

She Leaves the Darkness Behind

Bulgarian photographer Dobrin Kashavelov has documented  refugees’ hardships with incredible sensitivity and poignance. You can view his series at, “Border of Hope.”

Syrian motherOne  of his photos inspired me to create the painting shown below. It is of a Syrian mother who at the time was in a refugee transit camp in Bulgaria. I don’t know what happened to her. But I do know that his photo forever captured her serene beauty and sincere dignity in spite of her circumstances and surroundings.

She looks off into the distance, at some source of light. I could hardly imagine what she had been through. And what her thoughts might be of her future. But I focused on the light.  I imagined her thoughts. And I wrote this poem, which winds its way through the painting:

She Leaves the Darkness Behind

she leaves the darkness behind her,
the bombs
the blasts
and the bullets.

only the ringing in the ears remains,
a constant reminder,
like a cricket atop her shoulder,
just another refugee fleeing the violence.

So she sets her sights on the butterfly within,
the vision
that out of this cramped cocoon
of pain and tears,

she will emerge whole,
by hope.

Again, as in my painting, “Their Ghosts Will Judge Us…”, flowers still bloom amid the destruction. As a refugee of war, this young woman tries to turn her back to the horrible things she has witnessed, to put them behind her and to focus on the promise of her future life.

In Syria, she was huddled in basements during bomb attacks, then squeezed into an airless truck driven by smugglers, and now, in the transit camp, she is again hemmed in, surrounded by walls, waiting for who knows how long, to have a sense of her fate.

She is like a butterfly that has been confined to a cocoon, unable to stretch, unable to see the light, unable to take wing. In a cocoon, accompanied by the painful memories and the ringing in the ears, the unseen scars of surviving the barbarism of war.

But my hope is that, like a butterfly, she will soon break free, and be drawn to the flowers that bloom around her: the kindness of strangers, the basic normalcy of being just a young woman again, and the possibilities that will be opened up to her in her new life.

Drowning in a Sea of Indifference

Last summer, the Western press was transfixed by the image of Aylan Kurdi, the young boy washed ashore after drowning during his father’s desperate trek across the Mediterranean. Suddenly Europe, the U.S. and Canada called out for action. Suddenly, the West paid attention.

And yet, this tragedy had been going on for years. Tens of thousands of children have died, both within Syria and along the harrowing route to sanctuary. Sadly, many on the receiving end of the refugee flow have remained indifferent, or worse,  have closed their doors to those who managed to survive the journey. While we can blame the sea and the smugglers and the flimsy rafts for these children’s deaths, it is our own indifference and inaction that have allowed it to continue. We say we have our own problems to deal with. We are afraid a terrorist will infiltrate. Why should we take the risk of bringing in refugees?

Why? Because the only difference between me and a Syrian refugee is that I happen to be born in the U.S., and they happen to be born in Syria. I did nothing in particular to earn this twist of fortune. It could be me. Aylan could be my child. Or yours.

This painting is dedicated to these children and their parents. Many died within sight of the shoreline; their deaths were preventable. Now the same Aegean Sea that has long  brought to mind joyful images of summer vacation and sun-kissed relaxation for Europeans, has become a killing field for the innocent.

I can only hope that our indifference will transform into compassionate action.



How the “Ghosts” Painting Came to Life

“Their Ghosts Will Judge Us: A Plea for Peace in Syria”

Sketch for "Their Ghosts Will Judge Us..."

Sketch for the painting.

The image of the Syrian woman with the dove (at left), which inspired the painting that was juried into the 2015 Yellow Barn Exhibit,  came to me one day as I was reflecting on the situation in Syria, and I quickly sketched it out while it was fresh in my mind. Usually, I have to rework a sketch a few times before I’m satisfied with it, but this one seemed to emerge whole  from somewhere in my subconscious.

She is not any specific person I had seen in photos, but to me, she is the face of Syria.

Her ephemeral visage symbolizes the humanity—the beauty, the kindness, and the basic dignity—that have been sacrificed on the front lines of this conflict.Their Ghosts will Judge Us: A Plea for Peace in Syria

This painting marks a stark departure from my previous works. My existing portfolio focused on vibrant, joyous colors, and mostly subjects from nature. But here, in attempting to crystallize the tragedy of Syria in an image, I could  feel only muted, melancholy colors coming to the fore.

The jagged shapes in the background symbolize the pain that has been inflicted on an entire population, and the shrapnel of barrel bombs. The woman’s face is pallid and ghostly, a specter of Syria’s former visage. (more…)