Australia

How photography helped an Iraqi teenager find her voice

Wasan Alzuhairi (pictured left) with her photography project featuring in the Curious Dreams Exhibition. Source: SBS News/Curious Dreams Exhibition

Life as a girl is a very different experience for Wasan Alzuhairi in Australia, and her story - along with eight other young refugees - is captured in a new 'Curious Dreams' photo exhibition.

Iraqi born Wasan Alzuhairi was only 12-years-old when she dreamt of a world where she could help others tell their story.

But back in 2012, Ms Alzuhairi and her family were living in Iraq and faced religious persecution because of their ancient Mandaean and pacifist beliefs.

Mandaean is an ancient Middle Eastern religion, whose followers subscribe to the teachings of John the Baptist.

Ms Alzuhairi’s dwindling religious community had faced increased sectarian violence from extremists in the majority Muslim nation after US troops invaded Iraq in 2003.

Wasan Alzuhairi says that she's
Wasan Alzuhairi says that she's "interested in the science of everything".
SBS News

Prior to the invasion, there were an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq. After thousands were killed, caught in cross-fire, kidnapped and or fled persecution, less than 5,000 remain in Iraq.

After her cousin was kidnapped in 2012, Ms Alzuhairi’s father insisted it was time to leave. The youngster became yet another one of the estimated 60,000 Mandaeans scattered across Australia, the US and Europe.

'All of us have dreams'

After seeking a visa in Jordan four years ago, Ms Alzuhairi’s family arrived with hopes and dreams in Australia and settled in Liverpool, Western Sydney.

Taking advantage of her newfound freedom, Ms Alzuhairi turned to photography as a means to share her experience.

Wasan Alzuhairi's artwork will feature in the 'Curious Dreams' exhibition.
Wasan Alzuhairi's artwork will feature in the 'Curious Dreams' exhibition.
Curious Dreams Exhibition

“In Iraq, all of us have dreams. But we weren’t allowed to express our dreams or achieve them, because we are girls. Being a girl in Iraq means your freedom is limited,” Ms Alzuhairi, now 18, told SBS News.

“But when I came to Australia it was totally different. Girls have the freedom to express their talents.

“I was in love with the art and photography.”

Four years after arriving, Ms Alzuhairi joined eight other young refugee migrants in a photography workshop in  Liverpool run by the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre (MRC).

Saskia Wilson, a professional photographer and educator, headed the project after she became interested in teaching photography programs with communities from diverse backgrounds.

Wasan Alzuhairi's work in the Curious Dreams exhibition launch.
Wasan Alzuhairi's work in the Curious Dreams exhibition launch.
Curious Dreams Exhibition

With an upcoming exhibition in Redfern, Sydney, on Wednesday 2 May, the nine participants duly named their collective work Curious Dreams – a reflection on their journeys and how it has shaped their view of the world.

'Everybody in life has a story'

Simon Shahin, 25, made the journey from Syria to Australia - an experience that he says has allowed him to find the “captivating” in what many would find “mundane”.

“I’ve tried to capture in the presented photos some of the ‘mundane’ moments of what I see in my day-to-day time over a duration of time,” he said.

“I seek to capture more delicate and intricate items and present them in a way that is captivating and overwhelming about all walks of life,” Mr Shahin said of his final project.

Twenty-five-year-old Simon Shahin is a former refugee from Syria whose artwork will also feature in the 'Curious Dreams' exhibition.
Twenty-five-year-old Simon Shahin is a former refugee from Syria whose artwork will also feature in the 'Curious Dreams' exhibition.
Supplied

MRC Community engagement manager Meredith Stuebe said the workshop allows young migrants who have already experienced so much to tell their stories.

“Everybody in life has a story and a life journey they want to share, but for these young people they have already had such an incredible journey,” she told SBS News.

“I think it’s really important to champion programs that give them the power over their own story.”

Ms Alzuhairi said she hopes to one day use the workshop and her experience as a springboard to start telling stories of those who are persecuted and need a voice.

“If I have the opportunity I want to be a photographer. I want to travel around the world and take pictures of people who don’t have a sound or a voice in this world,” she told SBS News.

The Curious Dreams exhibition will take place on 2 May at Redfern Town Hall, Level 1, 73 Pitt Street between 6-8pm.

Wasan Alzuhairi (pictured left) and teacher/photographer Saskia Wilson (pictured right).
Wasan Alzuhairi (pictured left) and teacher/photographer Saskia Wilson (pictured right).
SBS News

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch