World Refugee Day | Artist Videos

Saturday Jun 20th, 2020

refugee video blog

Our region, particularly Erie’s urban core, is becoming a truly intercultural community. To advance this effort, however, we must embrace and celebrate our cultural diversity. We must place an emphasis on preserving and promoting the cultural traditions. True assimilation is when newcomers adapt without having to abandon their identities and the host community embraces the perspectives they bring .  

Northwestern Pennsylvania has a rich array of folk artists. Folk arts are defined as traditions that spring from specific ethnic, religious, linguistic, occupational, or regional groups. Some of the region's traditional artists were born here, while others resettled here as immigrants and refugees. Many of the region's folk artists are hidden in plain sight because they don't practice or create their art for a formal stage or an exhibition space. Instead, their art form is often shared as part of a community ritual.

Erie Arts & Culture administers a Folk and Traditional Arts Program, managed by Kelly Armor, as part of our commitment to preserving and promoting diverse cultures. Through this program, we identify traditional artists in the region, assist those artists in keeping their art form vital, and create broader community access to folk arts through presentations, performances, workshops, and other programs.

For World Refugee Day 2020, Kelly collaborated with four artists to create a video series. All the footage you see was captured by the artists themselves. Each artist chose to speak about a different aspect of refugee experience. Despite the horror of war and persecution they have all suffered, they remain positive about the future and the new lives they have built in the U.S. Kelly worked with each of them to edit their footage together into a short video. All artists are from Muslim majority countries, and are part of a current Erie Arts & Culture project funded through the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art's Building Bridges grant program.

We invite you to listen to the stories of our refugee artists and learn more about their work in the videos below.

Ansumana Komba Gbembo

Ansumana Komba Gbembo is a clothing designer from Sierra Leone who now lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. A desire to give back motivates Ansumana Gbembo to teach others African tailoring, an art that literally threads people and cultures together.

Ansumana does not work with a pattern, but instead uses the client’s measurements to create a custom fit. In West African culture, the way you dress greatly influences the way others view, and ultimately, respect you. Ansumana has many loyal customers, mostly Africans and Arabs, now living in the area.


Mensura Berberovic

Mensura Berberovic is a ballad singer now living in Erie. Mensura is a master of Bosnian ballads called Sevdalinka. This tradition is over 100 years old, yet Sevdalinka are still part of modern Bosnian life. Mensura is passionate about using music to battle hate and bigotry. Mensura has been a speaker with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, a song coach with the Old Songs New Opportunities Project, and is an active member of the Bosnian Islamic Cultural Center in Erie.

Nialwak Athow

Nialwak Athow lives in Erie and is originally from South Sudan.She has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts as a master practitioner of henna. The use of henna for body art is several centuries old and shared by women in East and North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and India. Elaborate henna on the hands, arms, legs, and feet is used  as a rite of passage for a woman on her wedding night. After a woman is married she often uses henna to celebrate holidays and as personal adornment. Nialwak is in demand as a henna artist for Erie’s Sudanese, Somali, and Iraqi communities. She has done workshops and demonstrations locally at festivals and private events.

Ghadah Hussein

Ghadah Hussein is a visual artist from Iraq now living in Erie. She studied fine art at the University of Baghdad and graphic design at the Erie Institute of Technology. She is also an interior and set designer. Ghadah has exhibited her work at local galleries and in 2019 Erie Arts & Culture commissioned Ghadah to design a card game, “Meet a Refugee,” which helps people start conversations and learn about people from different countries. Ghadah embraces both American culture and her Sumerian roots and her fine art reflects a blending of eastern and western motifs as well as ancient and modern elements. Ghadah uses her art to make the world a more welcoming and beautiful place. In this video you can see her starting a piece using woodburning, which she will then finish with pen and ink and paint.


Erie Arts & Culture

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