The stories of siblings Joudy and Khalil in my new book Fear & Dreams are stories of young lives forced to mature quickly, quite simply because life in their war-ravaged Syria demanded it. The innocent free-abandon of their early teenage years in Damascus was replaced with fear and pain at the indiscriminate conflict in the streets that were once safe routes to meet friends, go to the local grocery store and travel to school.
Like many families with options and time in short supply, Khalil and Joudy’s family decided to leave their home and city to find a way to escape the threat that had engulfed their nation. At 16 years old, Khalil was the first of his family to be given a chance to leave Syria. He was his family’s hope of finding a place of safety. Assisted by his father and a people smuggler in Turkey, he eventually managed to arrive in Greece and then made his way to the UK.
Our paths crossed in 2018 when I had the opportunity to meet and mentor a refugee youth group in London. Khalil and his sister Joudy (who had later joined him in the UK) were part of the group and would often be the most energised and collaborative of my students. For four months, I showed up week after week, and so did they.
Their passion and generosity in sharing their stories was so inspiring to me. It became one of the main reasons I decided to share more of my own family’s story at the start of my book Fear & Dreams.
The results from our four-month span of sessions created far more impact than I could have imagined. That year we exhibited the work the young migrant refugees had created at London City Hall, The British Museum, and before the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Five years on, the Al Dabbas family is now reunited and has recently been adopted by the UK as citizens. It’s been a beautiful, self-actualising journey to observe and take part in. The journey has provided many opportunities and new beginnings for this family, and the future is now looking very bright.
About the author
Arteh Odjidja is an award-winning photographer and educator specialising in portraiture and fine art photography. He has had the privilege of speaking and exhibiting his work throughout the UK and the US. Arteh considers London his home, but he also draws inspiration from his West African heritage.
London is where he completed his degree in graphic design at the University of the Arts. Growing up with a father working in the filmmaking industry, Arteh developed an early fascination with the creative process.
He took to photography soon after he was given a camera by his mother at age ten. As a professional photographer, Arteh has been commissioned to create work for some of the world’s most recognised brands and is also an Akademie tutor for Leica Camera.
Arteh’s passion to make a positive impact with his work has led him to explore personal projects aiming to highlight stories of those often overlooked in our society and challenge our sense of privilege and equality in a transient, fast-paced, modern socio-economic world.
His work has been exhibited extensively in the US and the UK at the likes of the Tate Modern, The British Museum, London City Hall, and The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. Arteh also speaks at universities and colleges hoping to inspire young creatives.
Arteh’s forthcoming workshops in Britain:
In Conversation: With Arteh Odjidja on Empowering Portraiture, Birmingham, 24 June 2023 (Sponsored by WEX Photo/Video)
Exhibition and Talk: Photo Frome Festival. Decolonising Environments, Frome, Somerset, 24 June-12 July 2023
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