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Contemporary Japanese artist Nara wants to raise awareness on struggles faced by refugees

Kyodo

Contemporary Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara urged visitors to an international aid symposium in Tokyo to try to “imagine” being in the shoes of displaced persons during a speech where he shared his experience of visiting refugee camps in Jordan.

At the event held Saturday at the United Nations University, Nara, known for his paintings of a small child staring at viewers, called for more attention to be given to vulnerable people in the world such as those who have fled the war in Syria.

The artist presented snapshots of the refugee camps Zaatari and Azraq, which he visited in March on behalf of a nonprofit organization involved in aid activities.

Along with the photos, including those of smiling children and food from Syria, he also displayed a painting he bought from a local artist.

“You don’t necessarily have to make supporting Syrian refugees your aim,” he told the audience, adding he has learned from experience that, by giving thought to people facing difficulties and starting with even small things to help them, the spirit of caring will eventually reach others.

“For me, I’ve come to realize that I have more ability to paint than others, so by doing that I think I could support them in some way.”

The artworks of Nara, who also visited refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2002, often include messages of peace.

Although the visit was not intended to inspire his creativity, he said he was sure that the experience of meeting people full of life despite their difficult situations would be reflected in his future works.

“The experience (of the visit) helps me have a more realistic view of the life of refugees,” he said.

As of June 2019, there were about 5.4 million registered Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many of them stay in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Japan, which has maintained a strict immigration policy, has primarily only accepted foreigners with high skill levels, such as those in the fields of medicine and law, while taking in only a tiny number of refugees.

In 2018, only 42 out of 10,493 asylum seekers were granted refugee status, according to the Justice Ministry.

Nara’s nine-day trip through March 9 was planned by Japan Platform, an organization that coordinates emergency humanitarian assistance and tries to raise awareness on the situations faced by refugees.