Ammar Alobaidi knows what it’s like to arrive in a new country and have to learn everything all over again. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, he lived in Libya and Jordan before coming to Houston, in 2014, as a refugee. How would he get a driver’s license in this strange new place, 7,000 miles away from the city of his birth? Where would he find an apartment? What about a bank account?
Day by day, he put the pieces together. Now, just three years later, he works for YMCA International, helping other refugees access available benefits, just as someone from the organization once assisted him. He likes the job and believes it’s important. But, he says, it’s when he leaves the office for the day that he pursues his passion.
Alobaidi is an artist who believes in fighting darkness with light and color. This is what he does in the evenings. His bright, cubism-inspired paintings bear little trace of the devastation the Iraq War wreaked on his home country. “In my art, my message to the people is that life is beautiful. Enjoy this life. See the beauty in life, go ahead and see it,” he says. “Don’t think always of the trouble and the bad things.”
Of course, in his way, Alobaidi is still confronting those bad things, processing grief and loss, like so many before him, through creative means. He’s one of six artists, all refugees and immigrants connected to YMCA International, featured in an impressive group show at St. John’s School last fall. All of them agreed to share their stories—and work—with Houstonia.