Ausama al Khalil was an artist and designer originally from Baghdad, Iraq, who fled his country to escape persecution and torture after it became a warzone. He arrived in the UK in 2006 seeking asylum, and settled in Middlesbrough. In 2016, he passed away.

Already an established artist and designer in Iraq, Ausama presented his work at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) in the exhibition ‘If All Relations Were to Reach Equilibrium, Then This Building Would Dissolve’ in 2016.

Despite having experienced such hardships, Ausama took great pleasure in painting. His work speaks of displacement, stories of care and recovery from repression, and the role art plays in therapy and reconciliation. In a documentary made about him, Ausama said: “When I am painting I am feeling I am alive. When painting, sometimes my mind does not think about my suffering and this gives me hope for the future.”

Friends and supporters are organising a memorial exhibition to raise awareness of the struggles faced by people seeking asylum. The show is on view between 4 and 27 August, and a preview evening is to be held on Thursday, 3 August, from 5.30pm at mima. The event features a short film of Ausama’s life and talks from Pete Widinski of Justice First, an organisation based in the area which supports refugees, reflections from John and Margaret Hinman, close friends of Ausama, and an introduction from Elinor Morgan, Senior Curator at mima.

John and Margaret Hinman commented: “We had known Ausama for some time, and feel his work offers a unique perspective on the trails and tribulations of asylum seekers escaping from war and civil unrest. His work also explores the journey between cultures and continents; the denial of rights, adjustment and assimilation. Ausama made a strenuous effort to reclaim dignity and respect through his art.”

Bini Araia from Investing in People and Culture (IPC) charity added: “Ausama was an accommodating and considerate person who always offered to help others around him. He was associated with our charity to help raise awareness of mental health issues among vulnerable members of our society. Ausama offered his Arabic and English language skills to facilitate IPCs activities.”

Elinor Morgan Senior Curator at mima added “We had the privilege of working with Ausama last year and valued his friendship and contribution to art and the community. We are really happy to be supporting this memorial event and hope it will help raise awareness of the struggle that people seeking refuge face, in both leaving homelands and settling in new countries.”

The group are raising funds to support vital medical work in Baghdad. Monies raised  will go to the Baghdad Central Training Hospital for Children, providing doctors working there with much needed medical supplies and equipment. A Just Giving page can be found at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/baghdad-hospital  and a donation box will be available for those who wish to make a contribution.

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