Yazidi refugee from Syria uses art to find peace in Winnipeg

Bloodied footprints and the sad faces of Syrian women are featured on some of the paintings inside the Elmwood Community Resource Centre, as a reminder of the trauma one Syrian man left behind.

Nadim Ado shows off his work at the Elmwood Community Resource Centre as tribute to Syrian people

Nadim Ado is a Yazidi refugee who created these paintings at the Elmwood Community Resource Centre in Winnipeg. Ado said he uses his art to reflect and heal from the trauma he experienced in Syria. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Bloodied footprints and the sad faces of Syrian women are featured on some of the paintings currently on display at the Elmwood Community Resource Centre — a reminder of the trauma one refugee left behind.

Nadim Ado is a Yazidi refugee who fled his home country of Syria for a new life in Canada. He, his wife and their two children arrived as government-sponsored refugees on Dec. 23 of last year.

"I like art. I studied art in Syria, that was my life, my way of living in Syria," Ado, speaking in Arabic, said through a translator.

As an artist, Ado said he always found peace through his painting. 

He said after he settled in Winnipeg he needed a space to reflect and heal.

Delshan Mohamed (back left) and Nadim Ado (right) arrived in Winnipeg as refugees from Syria in December with their children Hero, 12, and Mehyar, 9. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
"He needed a place so we offered him a space to express his emotion through art, so he's been coming here every day," said Nina Condo, executive director of the Elmwood Community Resource Centre. 

"So this gives him purpose and a meaningful place to find peace," she said.

The resource centre offers language classes, settlement programs and employment advice for newcomers.

Condo said she met Ado last month after she noticed him frequently coming to the centre to paint.

"I'm like, 'What is he doing here?' So I started asking him and that's when I learned about his story," Condo said.

Ado said he still has many awful memories of the ongoing war in Syria. He saw many people killed in front of his home in Damascus, and he said he was also kidnapped by militants before he finally escaped to northern Iraq.

"I'm a Yazidi — maybe you've heard about what's happening to Yazidis there," he said through the translator.

The House of Commons recently declared the violence perpetrated against the religious minority group in Iraq and Syria an act of genocide.

Ado said he is now happy with his new life in Winnipeg, and optimistic about the future as long as his nine-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter are happy, he said. 

"My son is still having bad dreams daily," Ado said.

This painting of a Syrian woman is one of several pieces of art created by Nadim Ado, a Yazidi refugee who uses art to find peace in Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
He said he channels his feelings through his artwork, which is currently on display at the centre to help educate the public about the suffering of Syrian people. 

One of the paintings is a close-up of a young woman's face. It was hung up on the wall Wednesday afternoon in honour of International Women's Day.

"That one is to reflect the sadness of Syrian women, and because of International Women's day I wanted to explore that," Ado said.

"This reflects the life of the Syrian people before the war, the life for these people was regret … They enjoyed life before the war but after the war, it becomes mixed with blood and torture."

This painting by Nadim Ado features footprints and blood stains, and reflects the migration of people from Syria, he says. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
Another painting shows blood stains splattered across dozens of footprints.

"This work is about Syrian people in 2015 when they moved from Syria through Macedonia to Europe, like Germany and other countries," he said through the translator.

Ado's work was unveiled along with many other art pieces created by refugees as part of an International Women's Day event at the Elmwood Community Resource Centre on Wednesday night. 


Nelly Gonzalez is an award winning reporter/editor at CBC Manitoba based in Winnipeg. She's been working with CBC since 2011 and has 14 years reporting experience in Winnipeg. She began working at CBC as a videographer covering stories in Brandon before relocating to Winnipeg in 2012.