Monday, July 10, 2017

BP Travel Award - Laura Guoke exhibits portraits from a refugee camp

Last year, The BP Travel Award 2016 was won by Lithuanian artist Laura GuokeThis year we can see the results of her efforts in terms of travel and portraiture in the BP Portrait Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London

Laura Guoke with her two portraits of people in the Ritsona Refugee Camp near Athens
(left) Monica - a volunteer from Switzerland
(right) a Syrian mother and her child

About the BP Travel Award

The BP Travel Award is an annual prize that enables  artists to work in a different environment on a project related to portraiture.

The prize of £6,000 is open to applications from any of the current year's BP Portrait Award-exhibited artists, except the prize-winners.

In 2016 the award was won by Laura Guoke

There seem to be two strategies used by those who win the Travel Award. They either produce one or two large paintings or a series of smaller paintings. Either way there is a clear theme and story behind the portraits exhibited in the exhibition of the following year's Portrait Award.

About her proposal

Laura's proposal won because she proposed proposal to travel to one of the refugee camps, for those feeling Syria, in Ritsona, Greece (80km from Athens).

Her plan was to use sketches, photographs and filmed material to create large-format portraits of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria and the volunteers helping them.

About the exhibit paintings

Laura's aim was to show migrants as people with names, faces and individual stories, using her work to convey personal themes which may otherwise be difficult to put into words.

Laura has produced two large-format paintings in acrylic for the exhibition - one of a volunteer and one of refugees - based on the material she collected while working in the camp.

You can see them in the BP Portrait Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and on its tour around the UK.

  • Monica is a Swiss volunteer. 
  • Rima is a Syrian mother of five children. 
  • They are a similar age but have very different experiences.

Monica, Rima and Ahmed by Laura Guoke
acrylic on canvas 2016
Monica was volunteering at the camp for a second time, having put her degree in business studies on hold.  Laura has kept in touch with her and Monica is about to return to the camp for a third time.

Laura said
Our society should be proud of these volunteers who have come from all over the world to carry out difficult work for free
Rima is shown with her son Ahmed.  Rima fled Aleppo with her husband and children and her son was born in Athens.  When Laura met them, they had been living at the Ritsona Refugee Camp for several months.  At the time that Laura was visiting, Ritsona was designated a "red camp" by the UN due to inadequate toilets, showers, electricity and medical care.

Laura said of the painting of Rima and Ahmed
I have attempted to reveal the trauma, exile, hopes and fortitude that have marked the lives of the refugees
Rima and her family are currently living in Athens and hoping to be resettled to Ireland.

You can read an interview with Laura on the NPG Blog - it includes photographs of the camp and sketches done by Laura while she was there.

About Laura Guoke

Laura Guoke graduated with a BA in fine arts at Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts in 2008. She followed this up with an MA at Siauliai University (2008-2010). Her work has been seen
in group exhibitions in New York, London and Vienna and in several solo exhibitions in Lithuania and Estonia.

Laura travelled to the Ritsona Refugee Camp and stayed there for two weeks in September 2016. She also worked as a volunteer in the Refugee Camps while she collected material for her portraits.
‘I didn’t think it would be right just to go there to carry out my artistic project; I wanted to be helpful,’ she explains. ‘Meal vouchers are given to each tent in the camp and the food is distributed three times per day, with volunteers working in shifts.’
If you'd like to tell Laura what you think of her portraits you can contact her on

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