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19 June 2020

Award winning migrant artist donates artwork to King's

Anna Virabyan has gifted a painting to the Department of War Studies for Refugee Week

Watercolour donated to King's by Anna Virabyan
Watercolour donated to King's by Anna Virabyan

Anna Virabyan, an Armenian artist and refugee, has donated a painting to the Department of War Studies in recognition of the confidence and sense of belonging she has gained through her collaborations with the Migration Research Group and King’s Student Action for Refugees (KCL STAR).

Anna painted the artwork as part of a collaborative research piece that she worked on with Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies and Chair of the Migration Research Group. The watercolour, which was the third Art Cabinet piece that Anna created for this interdisciplinary research project, was captured using an alla prima technique.

I am so grateful to King's College London as it opened a door for me and welcomed me when I was an asylum seeker. At the most difficult time in my life, when my rights were limited, the Department of War Studies gave me an opportunity to be seen and heard, and also allowed me to deliver my art. At King's I met incredible people, full of compassion who gave me hope and a start to move forward! This painting represents a Circle of Life – an entrance to the Pure Horizons where the Silence can be found.

Anna Virabyan, an Armenian artist and refugee

Leonie first met Anna when she contributed to the Migrant Voices in London project, which involved four London-based migrants filming their daily lives. This project resulted in a short film that consists entirely of their visuals and narratives.

Anna spoke to Leonie about how she uses her art as a medium of expressing her emotions, which has helped her overcome fear and pain. In the video that captures this conversation, you can witness Anna create the painting that she has generously gifted to King’s.

Anna, who currently lives in the UK, was born in Georgia and raised in Russia. Her passion for art stems from a very young age having been raised by artistic parents who encouraged creative expression and design. She pursued her education in art at the Sochi School of Art in Russia. After graduating with a degree in Design Environment, she relocated to the UK in 2010 and pursued her art career, experimenting with realism and flower painting, before her life took on a different direction.

As someone who has fled war and domestic violence, and who has been subject to the UK asylum process, Anna’s art expresses affectively who and how she has continued to become through violence, movement, stillness and silence.

We’re delighted to accept this generous gift of artwork from Anna for the Department of War Studies. I’m glad that by collaborating with her on our research project, exploring how migrants experience London and the borders they often encounter, we were able to give her a sense of belonging at King’s. I look forward to hanging it in pride of place in the War Studies meeting room when we return to campus.

Professor Mike Goodman, Head of the Department of War Studies and Dean of Research Impact

To help others express themselves and overcome challenges they face, Anna provides art workshops for people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds. Anna has facilitated workshops at King’s and recently ran an art therapy workshop for KCL STAR’s annual conference, ‘Who Are We? Refugees, displaced identities and the question of belonging’.

Anna is a very talented artist and a brilliant teacher. Her workshops at King's have been transformative experiences as she encourages everyone to 'let go' and see what happens on paper. Through Anna’s supportive approach, and the openness she encourages among participants, we create a space in which we can express ourselves as we are and in which we all feel we belong, regardless of background, position or (legal) status.

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies and Chair of the Migration Research Group

Discover more of Anna’s work on her Instagram account.

Find out more about how King’s is contributing to understanding and responding to the global issue of forced displacement and helping to realise the educational potential of refugees on the King’s Sanctuary Programme webpage.

In this story

Leonie  Ansems de Vries

Reader in International Politics

Michael  Goodman

Professor of Intelligence and International Affairs