With the box office smash success of the new "Wonder Woman" film, the role of female superheroes is on many of our minds.
Canadian artist Sandra Chevrier is intimately familiar with the topic. Her work overlays superhero comic strips with intricate portraits of women. The pieces explore the strength women have, even in the face of the impossible pressure society places on them. Each work is captivating and provocative, portraying the women as both strong and beautifully fragile.
A piece from Sandra Chevrier's Fragile Heroes series. (Photo/Sandra Chevrier)
"In comic books, despite all the playfulness of the thing itself and all the 'POW BING BAM', superheroes are also fragile. For example, when Superman loses his battle against Doomsday, the image of his red cape tattered and planted in the ground as a fallen flag has intense beauty and incredible power," Chevrier said.
It's a mental image that calls to mind the red shirt of little Alan Kurdi on the beach, an event that changed how many of us view the refugee crisis. Refugees today are the most poignant reminder of our fragility as humans. Perhaps that's why they make us feel so uncomfortable- and why those of us in more fortunate circumstances are responsible to help.
For Chevrier, the refugee crisis has given new meaning to her work with superheroes.
"When I first heard about the 'Uganda project- A brighter future', I was immediately drawn to it. Then a couple of months ago I was asked to be a part of it and I knew this would be something very special..." she said.
The project, conducted by Apartial, an online community of artists, in partnership with World Vision, brought together the work of contemporary artists who could inspire refugees to create their own empowering pieces.
Refugee children at Bidibidi refugee camp draw their dreams. (Photo/Oscar Durand, World Vision)
Lina, a 16-year-old refugee from South Sudan, was paired with Chevrier. The group came up with the idea that Lina would do a self-portrait, and "mask it with powerful images of strong women superheroes," Chevrier explained.
Lina's life as a refugee has been fraught with loneliness and fear. Her journey began with the murder of her father.
"I don't know, what, who killed him. My idea was that it was thief because everything inside was busted. And then I decided to run. I didn't even put my sandals on."
A neighbour helped Lina onto a bus bound for Bidibidi refugee camp in Uganda, the largest refugee settlement in the world. She has lived there alone since August, 2016.
But painting gave her both an outlet and a reprieve from the pain of her past.
Lina begins painting her self-portrait. (Photo/Oscar Durand, World Vision)
"It is a form of therapy. It gives them a sense of hope," said James Kamira, Child Protection Coordinator for World Vision. "Even if they have been distressed, they have a sense of hope, just coming to be part of it, and look at the amazing colours that are here."
The original painting, Lina said, inspired her because, "I like that it's a mask of protection that protects you from the bad things in your life."
Lina's own painting surrounds her striking gaze with superheroes like Storm, Bumblebee and Cecilia Reyes.
"I feel like a Superlady because when I was painting it I began to see myself as the people in the painting. I want to be a Superlady for my community," she said.
Lina with her "Fragile Hero" mural. (Photo/Oscar Durand, World Vision)
Now Lina is a part of a Peace Club, and is an Ambassador of Peace who works to improve relationships in the refugee camp. She says that she has "found friends", and that through her role with the club, she knows everyone in her community. She is also focussing on her studies in science to become a nurse.
For Chevrier, being a part of Lina's life has been a blessing. "Watching it come to life brought tears to my eyes...I am blessed that I could in some ways inspire and bring some joy to Lina; and I wish she knows that she greatly inspires me too."
Lina, Chevrier said, is a perfect example of the empowerment she hopes her art brings to women everywhere.
"She truly is a Superwoman," Chevrier concluded.
(Photos/Sandra Chevrier/World Vision)
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