'We need initiatives that have no other purpose than aesthetics': Painting shelters project in Zaatari refugee camp

During our last field trip to Jordan we met with Mohammad Jokhadar, a Syrian artist who fled Homs in 2013. He now works as a barber in Zaatari refugee camp and also gives free arts classes to children; his colourful barber shop is full of his students' paintings. In 2016 Mohammed formed the Jasmine Necklace, a collective of artists in Zaatari. The members of the group came up with a volunteer initiative to paint shelters in the camp and got the Norwegian Refugee Council’s support for the project. The artists divided the camp into twelve parts, and each was painted following a certain theme or a dominant colour to ensure that the otherwise anonymous streets gain some individual character. The themes often refer to the region that refugees came from or to Syria’s green landscapes, very different from the desert-like surroundings of the camp. One of the themes focused on Syrian archaeological sites in order to educate children born and brought up in the camp about their cultural heritage. The project lasted for over a year and attracted lots of attention from visitors. According to Mohammad, it is one of the most successful initiatives ever carried out in Zaatari because it is entirely about aesthetics, and because it responds to the longing for beauty shared by many Syrian refugees.