The Refugee Nation

01/01/2017 - 12/21/2017
The Refugee Nation

Yara Said
Syrian, born 1991, currently based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Refugee Flag, 2016
Courtesy of The Refugee Nation

What does a flag represent? A nation? A place? A people? Does it represent everyone or only a few? These questions are not usually asked when driving past a flagpole flying the American flag, questions not asked when children are taught to use flags to identify countries and states.

The ten refugees competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, however, had no flag, no symbol, and therefore no identity. As a result, they competed under the official Olympic flag and anthem. This seemed inadequate as they represented not only themselves as athletes, but also the 65 million displaced people throughout the world.In response, artist Yara Said, a Syrian refugee who found asylum in Amsterdam, designed this flag for the refugee team.

Said’s flag follows the 5 basic principles for designing a great flag compiled by The North American Vexillogical Association:

1. Keep it Simple
2. Use Meaningful Symbolism
3. Use 2-3 Basic colors
4. No Lettering or Seals
5. Be Distinctive or Be Related

This design is inspired by the orange life jackets worn by refugees fleeing their homeland by foot and by water in search of a safer place to live. Its simplicity is inherent in its immediate recognition, and its symbolism potent. The two colors are identifiable and arresting, causing both a visceral and personal reaction; they evoke solidarity for any refugee with personal experience wearing one, especially those who traveled across the Mediterranean Sea. This effect is particularly compelling considering the staggering statistics for the likelihood of surviving such a journey; according to the UN Refugee Agency one in 88 refugees died while crossing the Mediterranean in 2016, for those fleeing Libya to Italy that statistic jumps to one death for every 47 arrivals. The design has no need for lettering or seals, as the colors speak for themselves inducing a relationship between the flag, viewers and refugees.

The Refugee Nation and this flag represent a symbolic nation, one that has no location only the loci of the many individuals searching for a permanent home. A symbol of unity, of empathy, and of acknowledgement–despite its ultimate lack of recognition by the International Olympic Committee–Said’s flag has given solidarity and recognition to the refugees. This flag unifies a placeless people and highlights the struggles they face in this crisis. For them it is synonymous with their own borderlessness, it represents all nations, all places, and all peoples.

Stefanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton
Assistant Curator, Architecture, Design and Decorative Arts
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

For more about The Refugee Nation