Council celebrates Refugee Week with new art exhibition

Lesley Leroux
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As part of Refugee Week activities in the capital city this week, the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council Inc. (RIAC) is holding an art gallery exhibition at their 204 Water St. third floor art gallery in downtown St. John’s (above Coffee & Company) featuring the works of 16 artists who are members of the RIAC. RIAC research adviser Barbara Burnaby and executive director José Rivera admire some of the works of the artists on display for public viewing. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC) has put together an art exhibition for this year’s Refugee Week, which will be open for showings today and Sunday.

The RIAC art gallery features pieces by refugees and immigrants living in the province, as well as supporters of the organization such as Mary Pratt, Scott Goudie and Jim Maunder.

The exhibition features some unique works of art, including oil paintings, graphite sketches, fired clay sculptures, acrylics, silk screens and hand-stitched quilts.

José Rivera, executive director at RIAC, says the gallery began last year as an idea and turned into an outlet of expression for many refugees and immigrants who have made Newfoundland their home.

“The thought was that newcomers have little to no access to display their work,” Rivera says.

“So it would be hard for a newcomer to get credentials if they want to be accepted by regular, mainstream art galleries. So we decided to have a space for that —the first time for them to be able to showcase their work.”


Providing platform

The gallery has recently gained exposure through events such as Refugee Week and Doors Open last year — an event that gives people exclusive opportunity to visit historical, cultural and artistic buildings throughout the city.

Since then, RIAC has continued to develop its art gallery as a way to not only provide a platform for the artists, but to sell their works and make them available for public viewings.

“As we promote the presence of the gallery and we promote the artists, people become aware that we have beautiful artists, beautiful art from intelligent artists coming from away,” Rivera says.

“It brings the people to think that Newfoundland is so diverse and there are so many things to see, so many new trends around that can be enjoyed.”


Adjusting to culture

Barbara Burnaby, research adviser at RIAC, says life in a different country can sometimes be frustrating for newcomers as they learn the ins and outs of a culture, and art serves as a form of relief from that.

“One other aspect to this is that so many people who come here as immigrants or refugees don’t speak English as their first language, and some of them don’t speak any English when they come at all,” Burnaby says.

“The nice thing about art is it gives them an opportunity to express their abilities without having to deal with English.”

RIAC has held workshops and panel discussions to help raise awareness of issues faced by refugees and immigrants.

The organization is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to helping newcomers settle, and promoting diversity through projects like the Refugee Week art exhibition.

Visitors are welcome at the gallery, 204 Water St. above Coffee and Company, this weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and are encouraged to visit the permanent installations throughout the year.

“You’re going to go around the room to find each one expresses different appreciations and different points of view,” Rivera says of the artworks.

“It’s a universal language.”

For more information about RIAC and future events, visit

Organizations: Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council, Coffee and Company

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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