This World Refugee Day, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is proud to honor the courage of refugee artists who use their creativity to connect and heal—bringing people closer together. Through their painting, their dance and their song, these inspiring artists open a door into their world and show us who they are beyond the label of refugee.

Founded in 1933 at the request of Varian Fry and Albert Einstein to rescue some of Europe’s most important cultural leaders - among those Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst - the IRC has a long history of recognizing how courage and creativity in the refugee experience have intersected to forge a way forward.

In the lead up to World Refugee Day, the IRC is kicking off its campaign with an iconic commissioned illustration that captures the strength and resilience of refugees. The artist, Diala Brisly, a refugee herself,  shows us what is possible when free to unleash the creativity inside. Her artwork announcing “Refugees are Courageous” evokes the experiences of refugees and the need to welcome refugees. For Diala, “courage is having fears, having all this worry, having all this trauma, and still having the energy to keep going.”

An illustration of five men and women of different ages and cultures, including a baby, an older woman with a hijab and a young man with hair dyed blue. There is destruction behind them and they are looking forward with images of waves ahead of them.
Diala Brisly’s illustration created for World Refugee Day 2021.

Our marquee video will bring to light the stories of three artists - prima ballerina Christine Shevchenko, rapper Belly, and painter Muyambo Marcel Chishimba - who've had to leave their homes and begin anew, who’ve been able to explore their identity and experience through their art. It is through the lens of different art forms, in this case dance, music, and painting, that the IRC highlights the power of art and its universal ability to exhibit a sense of belonging and global connection.

This World Refugee Day, share the powerful stories and inspiring work of refugee artists and take action for refugees around the world. It takes great courage to stand up for what you believe in. Show up today.

About the artists:

Diala Brisly: Forced to flee Syria in 2013 and now resettled in France, Diala uses her art both to confront her own trauma and to defend the human rights of others. This commitment has led her to create work supporting a women’s hunger strike in Syria and to host artistic workshops in refugee camps. Today, she runs art therapy workshops for children affected by war. She is represented by the agency of artists in exile.

Christine Shevchenko: Christine Shevchenko, a principal ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, moved to Philadelphia as a refugee at age 6. Having trained as a gymnast and studied ballet in her native Ukraine, she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Rock School and soon was dancing the children’s lead in The Nutcracker. Shevchenko joined the American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in 2007, the corps de ballet in 2008, became a soloist in 2014 and a principal dancer in 2017.

Belly: Belly, the Palestinian-born Canadian rapper, songwriter and record producer, has worked on countless hits, including this past year’s global smash hit “Blinding Lights” and well as “Save Your Tears” both by The Weeknd as well as past hits such as “Earned It” (also cowritten with fellow Canadian artist The Weeknd), which was nominated for an Academy Award, a Grammy, and an iHeartRadio Music Award in 2016, the same year Belly was honored as songwriter of the year by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. Belly was resettled to Ottawa as a child, embarked on his music career at 16, and reached No. 1 on MuchMusic’s video chart at 23. He went on to create hits with some of the biggest names in music as well as release his own acclaimed albums with his upcoming album on Roc Nation slated for his summer.

Muyambo Marcel Chishimba: Muyambo Marcel Chishimba is a Congolese refugee resettled by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a young boy, he was taught to paint by his uncle, acclaimed Congolese artist Kabemba Albert Stounas. For three decades, Chishimba worked at his art before he was forced to flee his war-torn country in 1991, first to Zambia, then to Elizabeth, New Jersey.