Freedom from Torture - This is my home - how art helps refugees heal

This is my home - how art helps refugees heal

This week’s Art Auction not only showcases work by 60 of the UK’s leading fine artists, but also by Freedom from Torture’s clients. For one survivor of torture, art has played a crucial role in helping him to rebuild his life.

When he first arrived in the UK, Iqbal wasn’t able to paint. Having fled torture in his home country of Sri Lanka, he was struggling to adjust to a new life in the UK. Back home, he’d been a successful artist, selling his work alongside his job as a martial arts instructor, but in this strange new country, his ability to express himself had deserted him.

One of the most pernicious effects of torture on survivors is its ability to rob them of their creativity, and stifle their engagement with the world around them. Iqbal shut himself away:

When I came here, I stayed hiding in my room. I didn’t go outside. I felt very lonely, and my mind was not good

Recognising that he needed more support, Iqbal’s doctor referred him to Freedom from Torture for therapy, helping him to open up about his experiences and begin to rebuild his life.

One particular turning point arrived not in the therapy room, but while Iqbal was travelling to Freedom from Torture: a snow-covered tree on the side of the road, seen through a bus window. It reminded Iqbal of the landscapes he used to paint, and inspired him to start thinking about art again.

I looked outside, and I saw some trees and snow, and it inspired me to do painting. I thought I needed to do this to calm myself.

It also changed his perception of being in the UK: Iqbal began to see moments of beauty in what was previously an uncertain and intimidating place, helping him to find a new sense of belonging, and a connection to the community around him.

Now I try to make more help to people, and to Freedom from Torture, now this is my life and my home.

This week, Iqbal’s art appears as part of Freedom from Torture’s Art Auction, alongside works by some of the UK’s most famous and prestigious artists, including Antony Gormley, Quentin Blake, and Jake and Dinos Chapman. All of the participating artists have donated exclusive works to raise funds for Freedom from Torture’s vital work with torture survivors.

An exhibition of the donated artworks is open to the public at the Bargehouse, by the South Bank’s Oxo Tower, until Sunday 12 November. Online bidding is open now, and continues until the evening of 9 November.

To find out more about the exhibition and auction, visit

Iqbal has also shared his inspiring story with BBC Radio London, which you can listen to here (starts at 1 hour 9 minutes).




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