RESTART – Creating art spaces for creatives

On September, 17th 2015, Anish Kapoor and Ai Weiwei led a 8-mile-walk between their artworks in London as an act of solidarity with refugees around the world:

“We are demanding creativity of others, recognizing that those who leave their country and go on a journey across the water full of danger or who walk hundreds of miles across land are also making a creative act.”  

What do we need in order to be happy?

Refugees flee because they are denied one of their basic human needs – their safety. Remember Maslow’s pyramid: We have our biological and physiological needs that need to be satisfied first. Then we need safety. Then we have our social needs, we want to express some degree of personal power, to escape feelings of loneliness and alienation, to love and be loved… Only after this point we can work on our esteem needs to feel confident and valuable. Lastly, we search for our inner-calling – a full expression of our creative potential. 

Unfortunately, refugees don’t always find their way around these needs so easily in the country they newly reside in.

On the importance of creativity

In the most watched TEDTalk Do schools kill creativity?” by Ken Robinson, Robinson proposes that creativity should be as important as literacy. Unfortunately, every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects – mathematics and languages are at the top, the arts at the bottom. This hierarchy was established in the 19th century to meet the needs of industrialism. Robinson says this hierarchy is rooted in two ideas:

  • The subjects which are thought to help you the most to get a secure job are of utmost importance. 
  • Academic ability is believed to be the only indicator of intelligence.

Guess what, both ideas are pretty outdated! There is a huge difference between the skills needed today and back in the 19th century. Machines expand their ability to accomplish what we previously would describe as human tasks. What is really needed today is expert thinking and complex communication. We need doctors, who are able to come up with new solutions when all standard protocols have failed. We need teachers, who can manage to improvise answers in the unpredictable flow of a classroom discussion. We need people who have the courage to look at a problem in a different light and come up with a unique solution. And what better way is there to achieve that than encouraging children to express themselves in a unique way?


We limit refugees in the same way we limit our children. We desperately try to fit them into a system which has been ripe for reform for quite some time. Jonas Nipkow, student and social entrepreneur from Berlin, discovered for himself early on during his business studies that we need to rethink the purpose of our economic actions. Instead, we can use economic tools to create added social value and provide an answer to the challenges of our time. He had the feeling that there are only programs and initiatives that aim to integrate refugees in the typical job market. But what about all the creative minds among refugees? Consequently, he dedicated himself to projects that enrich other people’s lives and founded RESTART – the online marketplace for art made by refugees newcomers!


RESTART aims to facilitate new beginnings for newcomer artists by establishing a personal connection and tries to provide them with material and access to studios. This helps them get in touch with local artists and learn from each other on multiple layers. They get the space and privacy they need in order to create. They get a chance to present themselves and their work in exhibitions and to connect with their new society through the power of art and creativity!

The project originally started in Berlin and was brought to Vienna as RESTART Austria by Raffaela Daboval, who believes in the power of art to create social change. She completed her studies in management and like Jonas believes in the effects of social entrepreneurship.

The first exhibition of the project took place in Museumsquartier. It was a colorful evening with seven artists presenting their artwork. Let’s get to know them!

Meet Francis!       


Francis fled from Kenya in 2009 due to political instability. Now he lives with his family in Vienna. Back in Kenya he studied graphical design and started painting in Austria. His paintings are like a mirror of his cheerful demeanor. No sad stories here! He likes to depict sceneries and artifacts that remind him of his home country in his own style. He says he misses Kenya. Maybe that’s one way of coping with that…

Meet Parmis!


Parmis fled from Iran due to political instability as well. She believes art is inside everyone and is just waiting to be expressed. The main focus of her art lies on the silence of women  – the silenced women due to oppression. The message she wants to convey with her paintings is that one should not mistakenly believe that this silence means that women are content with their situation. She invites you to look underneath…

Meet Ibrahim!


Ibrahim fled from Syria in 2011 because of political oppression. He is an internationally well-known artist who wanted to participate in the exhibition to encourage the newer ones. He is mostly inspired by the suffering of the people in his country. His artwork is the reflection of their and his own pain. Still, he manages to keep up his spirits…

Meet Sahf!


Sahf is also a well-known Syrian artist who had to leave his country. He is a fine-arts teacher for children and for children with autism. He was also working as an art-critic for Syrian newspapers. Through his art he wants to show our internal pain as humans. Indifference towards the pain of the sufferers is unacceptable. He wants to convey this message for the rest of his life. He misses the man he was before he had to flee from his homeland…

Meet Fatemeh!


Fatemeh fled with her family from Iran and they are looking forward to starting their new life in Austria. They were being mistreated in Iran because of their ethnicity. They are very happy to be living in a country where they are being treated nicely. They want to give back to the country which has given them their peace of mind.

Meet Khaled!


Khaled fled from Syria to escape the war and has lived in Turkey for six years. He wants to go back though, as he has left his family back in Turkey and couldn’t manage to bring them here yet. He is an arts teacher and had exhibitions in Turkey. He says his pain inspires him to create his paintings but he still has hope…

Meet Mohammed!


Mohammed also fled from Syria. He painted two paintings for the exhibition, in which he depicted the refugee children he encountered on his way to Austria – children who had to withstand a long, exhausting journey…

The exhibition in Vienna will be displayed in KulturRaum Neruda until November, 20th.

This is your chance to embrace our new neighbors despite the artificial barriers promoted by politics and the media and support them in starting over again. Make sure to stop by!


Image credits to TJ Alshemaeree

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About Zeynep Ercan

Coming from the city where two continents meet, Zeynep has a passion for bridging cultures. As a social and cultural anthropology student she is looking for ways to understand the world around her better (and hopes to leave it a better place).

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