Omar Imam (b. 1979, Syria; lives in the Netherlands) is a photographer and video/installation artist. His photographic works oscillate between mundane documents and sketches of utterly inconceivable dreams. Using irony and a conceptual approach, Imam responds to the violent situation in Syria. After leaving Damascus in late 2012, Imam began making fictional short films and often must publish his work under a pseudonym.
Imam’s Live, Love, Refugee has been exhibited in 14 countries worldwide, and his work has been published in Aperture, the Huffington Post, Il Manifesto, the New York Times, and Zeit Online, among others. He received the 2017 Tim Hetherington Visionary Award for his latest project, Syrialism, and is also an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie (2018–2019).
Live, Love, Refugee seeks to disrupt recurrent and abstract representations of Syrian refugees by replacing numbers, reports, and statistics with visual interpretations of hallucinations, fears, and dreams. The conflict in Syria has created the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. Over 11 million people—half the Syrian population prior to the conflict—is displaced, with five million forced to flee the country altogether. In refugee camps across Lebanon, I collaborated with individuals through a process of catharsis, one I believe to be deeply healing amidst the nightmare of the living conditions in these camps.
I asked my collaborators to recreate their dreams: dreams of escape, love, and terror. Employing both surrealism and realism to create complex photographs, I encourage desensitized viewers to imagine and understand these lived experiences, which are too often shown through an oversimplified and violent lens.
These collaborative images evoke the deepest and darkest inner worlds of those persisting every day while their roots stretch further from a home left behind. They seek to challenge victimization of migrants and offer entry into the strength from which our humanity stems.
—Omar Imam, September 2018