“The metamorphosis” of Lusaks, refugee painter, or integration through art

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In the disorder of his studio in Thessaloniki, in the middle of pots of paint and canvases exploding with color, the Congolese Richard Lusakumunu, artist-painter and discoverer of talents, completes his “metamorphosis” almost three years after having obtained asylum in Greece.

“Art serves integration, inclusion, to break loneliness and to live like everyone else”, confides to AFP Richard, who created at the end of 2018 the collective “Mazi” (“Together”, in Greek ).

This group of 11 refugee and Greek artists has exhibited twice at the French Institute in Thessaloniki and is preparing its third exhibition there on September 14, this time with around thirty artists.

“The goal is to make them visible, to make ourselves visible, it’s up to us to go out into the world”, explains the young “admiral Lusaks”, a nickname given by the members of the collective.

“We do not speak the same language, it is painting that unites us”, adds the painter who is learning Greek.

A brush hanging from his frizzy hair – “it inspires me” – Richard, 26, arrived from the DRC in May 2017, deplores that “talents remain hidden” among asylum seekers.

So, since his arrival in Thessaloniki in 2018, he has volunteered in the Diavata camp to give painting lessons and “discover the talents”.

Jaamel Khan, a young Afghan refugee member of the “Mazi” collective, “had never painted before, but with the loneliness of the camps, he began to doodle and he is a great artist”, exclaims Lusaks, also singer of Gospel.

Spotted by the former Greek Ministry of Culture as “an example of integration”, “Lusaks” of his artist name is also “a driving force to help others integrate, it is his religious side” , explains to AFP the consul general of France, Philippe Ray.

– “Art therapy” –

In Diavata camp, Richard patiently shows asylum seekers aged 10 to 20 where to put the next brush on their designs.

“I try to bring out what is in them and release their problems in the painting”, he explains, in short an “art therapy”.

“In the camps, you meet people who want a better life”, he says: everyone has their own background, sometimes with a lot of diplomas, “and painting is a means of communication”.

The young man with the ebony skin thus hopes to mount, perhaps in January 2022, an exhibition including “artists of the Aegean islands”. Because in the most unhealthy camps of “Samos and Lesbos, there are also plenty of talents”.

Of course, financial support will be needed, but it is already being helped by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the NGO Naomi, the Quick Response Team association and the French Institute.

– “We had to flee” –

It was because of a painting exhibition that he had to flee Kinshasa in early 2017.

Son of a graphic painter, from whom he inherited the taste to teach, Richard painted at his side from “the age of 17” and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa.

But the activist engaged in the opposition is at the initiative of an exhibition called “Les Rendements” which questions the lack of “future for young people” under the regime of President Joseph Kabila of which “we do not. had no right to speak ill “.

“We had to flee,” testifies the former migrant, a practicing Catholic, who arrived by rubber boat on the Greek island of Samos.

Today, in Greece and perhaps tomorrow in France, he hopes, Lusakumunu “tries to make a living” from his art. But after being granted asylum, in September 2017, he no longer had housing or financial assistance. And to pay for his small apartment, he has to work as a seasonal worker in the hotel industry.

“In all our creations, there is a common point, a crossing, we try to talk about our past”, concludes Richard.

Like this oil on canvas with bright oranges and greens, called “Metamorphosis”, on which the caterpillar turns into a butterfly. A work he sold.

Or this “Gamos” (“marriage” in Greek) on which the bride wipes a tear – because “you always need to have someone by your side”, estimates the young bachelor.

But also this still unfinished work of a Black woman knitting a planisphere: “Unity, so that the world is better”.

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