After Hadil escaped the war in Syria, she found it difficult to keep doing the things she loved. She even stopped creating art, something she started when she was just three years old. Now living in Dunedin, Hadil has started painting again – her artwork is influenced by her journey, her love of Arabic calligraphy and poetry, and her ultimate dream: peace. 

Hadil grew up in Damascus where she developed her artistic talent and creativity from an early age.

“I used to do a lot of art in Syria – drawing, photography, handicrafts. I used to play music, different instruments – guitar, piano and violin,” Hadil reflects.

Her passion and talents led her to complete a Bachelor of Visual Communications degree to become a graphic designer, while also perfecting her Arabic calligraphy. But by the time she graduated, the war had been going for a few months already and it became impossible to study further or find a job.

Escaping war for a better life

Hadil stayed in Syria for another two years until she made the difficult decision to leave: 

“I was trying to find a place where I can do something... where you can study, you can live, you know – your simple rights. And it was impossible in Syria.”

Leaving on the second-to-last flight before borders closed to Syrians, Hadil left her parents behind and spent the next five years living in Malaysia while she waited for refugee resettlement.

“It wasn’t easy,” she explains. 

“Since I left Syria, my depression and anxiety have become worse and worse with time, and I stopped doing things I enjoy doing, even art.”

Syrian and Dunedin artist, Hadil Catherina.  

Creating art again in her new home

Hadil arrived in New Zealand in 2017 with her partner and received support through New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Settlement programme as she began her new life in Dunedin. It’s clear that Hadil loves her home in Dunedin as she describes the kind people she’s met and this ‘quality city’:

“I have friends here now,” Hadil explains, glowing as she describes her close friendship with one of her neighbours, who, she adds, is her mother’s age. They text every day about what to watch on Netflix, take beach walks to collect seaweed together and both love gardening.

With smears of paint on her forearms, Hadil explains how the things she loves are coming back since settling in her new home. She combines her artistic influences in her artwork; the Arabic calligraphy and poetry that connect her to Syria, with the challenges of living in Malaysia and her new life in New Zealand where her entire backyard is filled with vegetables and flowers. Though, the most important theme in her artwork, she emphasises, is peace. 

Hadil and her artworks, all created around the theme of peace.

In this Arabic calligraphy of ‘peace’, the letters are not in order as they are supposed to be. It’s a double meaning, explains Hadil:

“It’s trying to stay in one piece – trying to survive – it’s trying to hold peace together.”

The word peace in Arabic calligraphy features in several of Hadil’s artworks through different designs. “It’s actually a dream,” she says, “I’m hoping for peace for everyone, especially if you live through the war – I don’t want anyone to have to live through that.”

As Hadil points out her different peace designs – which range from soft and intricate calligraphy to precise geometrical shapes – she explains that she is trying to find other ways to describe her feelings.

Hadil holds her piece titled 'The Beginning', which will be auctioned on Thursday 8 October, 2020.

Red Cross Charity Art Auction

New Zealand Red Cross has held the Dunedin Charity Art Auction since 2016 to raise money for our work with communities here in Aotearoa and overseas.

The auction is also a chance to showcase the local talent of our creative community in Dunedin, including artists like Hadil.

The art auction held at the Dunedin Community Gallery on 8 October 2020 features over fifty works by more than twenty-five artists, including works by renowned artists such as Ewan McDougall, Gillian Pope, Anita De Soto, Dick Frizzell, Geoff Williams, Ron Esplin and many more!

There will be a special feature called “The Covid Bubble: interpretations of lockdown and the global pandemic that have shaped our collective experience of 2020.” These pieces are 40cm rounds, and are a chance for art lovers to take home a piece that captures this unique time in history. 

What: Red Cross Charity Art Auction

When: Thursday 8 October, 6pm | public viewings daily

Where: Dunedin Community Gallery, 20 Princes Street

Dunedin Community Gallery exhibits works by local artists including Hadil ahead of the Charity Art Auction.